Elon Musk Thinks There's a "One in Billions" Chance We're Not Living in a Video Game

Thursday, 02 June 2016 - 10:34AM
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Thursday, 02 June 2016 - 10:34AM
Elon Musk Thinks There's a "One in Billions" Chance We're Not Living in a Video Game
We've all heard the Matrix argument before. As computing and augmented reality technology continues to advance, we can't help but wonder if we could be living in a computer simulation. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for his part, has claimed that there is a "very high" chance we're living in a simulation. Now, Elon Musk, one of the other most famous names in popular science, has weighed in, and he believes there's a "one in billions" chance that we're not living in a video game created by a super-advanced civilization.



Musk's argument essentially claims that, since video game technology is increasing at an exponential rate, it follows that someday we will create simulated people with consciousness. And if that happens, we will presumably have the computing technology to run so many simulations that the simulated conscious people will far outnumber the biologically created conscious people. So at that point, it's just a numbers game, and there's a very small chance that any one individual person was born rather than simulated.

Here's his argument in full, advanced in the above video taken at Recode's annual Code Conference:

Opening quote
"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."
Closing quote

In this argument, Musk is basically repeating a thought experiment detailed in Nick Bostrom's now-famous paper, "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?". In this paper, Bostrom makes very similar claims, except he clarifies that this assumes civilization lasts long enough to create artificial conscious beings, which may very well not come to pass. Musk acknowledges that this is an assumption inherent to his argument, and clarifies that we should "hope" that there's a good chance we're living in a simulation.

Opening quote
"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."
Closing quote

Via Vox

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