Are We Living in a Real-Life Matrix?

Mia Gardner | 06 Dec 2017

Inside the MatrixThe idea that we are living in a simulation rather than reality is not new. Some of the oldest known philosophers suggested this, and it forms the basis of the Matrix movies and countless Manga stories. The pop culture novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy even features the idea that the entire earth and all the people on it are just a huge experiment.

Artificial intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are progressing at such a pace that at some point in the not-too-distant future the simulations that they allow will be indistinguishable from the physical world. It begs the question of what real life is in the first place. In a way that has never been true before, philosophy and technology are uniting over this issue.

Some Deep Thinking is Required

Some of the foremost thinkers of our age, notably Elon Musk and Bill Gates, are firmly of the belief that we really are living in some kind of simulation. Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, who is based at the University of Oxford, has written a book titled Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers and Strategies in which he outlines what could happen if Artificial Intelligence reaches human-level intelligence. From there, a “Superintelligence” would follow very quickly, and may even be simultaneous. Once this comes into being, it will be very difficult to contain.

Musk has said that he agrees that the threat Artificial Intelligence poses to the human race is huge, and points to how fast technology develops as evidence that what is predicted in Bostrom’s book could occur. Speaking at a tech conference in California in 2016, Musk added that we should actually be hoping we are in a simulation, since if we are not the chances of the human race ceasing to exist are very high. The time spent with your children, winnings from playing online casino games, the food you eat and even the very essence of who you are could all be simulations.

Thinking about all of this takes a lot of effort and could make you go a little crazy, but the theory really is that we could all be nothing more than a simulation, a figment of some other imagination. We watch civilisations grow very realistically in the video games that we enjoy playing; how do we know some other gamers are not watching us?

What Does All of this Mean?

Is life a virtual reality simulation?If we are really living in a simulation, what are we going to do about it, and should we do anything at all? The answers here are not clear-cut, though Musk has donated major funds to research in this area. Some leading thinkers suggest that we merge with Artificial Intelligence and upload our consciences into the cloud, so that everyone can access and share them. Would this be the next logical step in our simulation evolution? The alternative to merging is that we fight Artificial Intelligence and either the robots or the humans win; merging seems to be the only peaceful option.

Mentally, this all seems very logical and the mental gymnastics required to grasp this kind of thinking are actually very enjoyable. However, it does raise some serious theological and spiritual questions. What of philosophers who say the content of a religion is not important; all that matters is that you have one? What about reincarnation; are there successive simulations, with each being like a rebirth for us? Do we really keep learning until we reach enlightenment? How on earth would we even know? Hopefully Musk and other researchers will be able to answer us, and to tell us what to do if we are.


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