Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told an audience at Wednesday’s Recode conference that there is a “one in billions” chance that humanity is not living within a computer simulation, given the rate of technological advancement we have seen over the last 40 years.
Does that sound far out? Not if you are a fan of philosopher Nick Bostrom and his paper entitled, “Are You in a Computer Simulation?” In response to a question from journalist Josh Topolski, Musk offered this rationale:
“The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following. Forty years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.
If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.
So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”
Then Elon turned the question back on Topolski. “Tell me what’s wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?” Topolski replied, “The argument makes sense.” Then he asked Musk, “But what do you think?
“There’s a one in billions chance we’re in base reality,” he replied. Then he continued, “Arguably we should hope that that’s true, because if civilization stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization. So maybe we should be hopeful this is a simulation, because otherwise we are going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist. We’re unlikely to go into some multimillion-year stasis.”
Did you follow that? Personally, such abstractions make my head hurt. For more on this subject, head on over to The Simulation Argument website, where you can spend weeks working through all the permutations and possibilities.
Among other things Musk mentioned during the sit-down at Recode was that final designs for the Tesla Model 3 would be complete in about 6 weeks.