What Are The Odds We Are Living In A Computer Simulation


Surely every disinfonaut has wondered from time to time if we are living in a Matrix-like computer-generated world. We’re not sure if Elon Musk is a disinfonaut (although he probably is, right?), but he recently caused a lot of people to give it serious consideration, including Joshua Rothman at the New Yorker:

Last week, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and other cutting-edge companies, took a surprising question at the Code Conference, a technology event in California. What, a man in the audience asked, did Musk make of the idea that we are living not in the real world, but in an elaborate computer simulation? Musk exhibited a surprising familiarity with this concept. “I’ve had so many simulation discussions it’s crazy,” Musk said. Citing the speed with which video games are improving, he suggested that the development of simulations “indistinguishable from reality” was inevitable. The likelihood that we are living in “base reality,” he concluded, was just “one in billions.”

Musk, it seems, has been persuaded by what philosophers call the “simulation argument,” an idea given its definitive form in a 2003 paper by the Oxford philosopher and futurologist Nick Bostrom. (Raffi Khatchadourian profiled Bostrom for this magazine last year.) The simulation argument begins by noticing several present-day trends in technology, such as the development of virtual reality and the mapping of the human brain. (One such mapping effort, the brain Initiative, has been funded by the Obama Administration.) The argument ends by proposing that we are, in fact, digital beings living in a vast computer simulation created by our far-future descendants. Many people have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high. But recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists—people who share a near-religious faith in technological progress—have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.

The argument is based on two premises, both of which can be disputed but neither of which are unreasonable…

[continues at the New Yorker]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.