Entrepreneur Elon Musk believes we are on a trajectory to create games that are “indistinguishable from reality”, but raised the possibility that someone has beaten us to it.
Speaking at length at the Code Conference 2016, Musk was quizzed by an audience member about the possibility of a “sufficiently advanced civilisation creating a simulation that’s like our existence” and the potential that we’re already in it without realising.
The question derives loosely from Oxford University philosophy professor Nick Bostrom’s 2003 paper, ‘Are you living in a computer simulation?’, and struck a tone with Musk.
“I’ve had so many simulation discussions, it’s crazy,” Musk said, interrupting the question even before it had been completely asked.
“In fact it got to the point where basically every conversation was the AI/simulation conversation, and my brother and I finally agreed that we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub.”
In the absence of a hot tub, Musk agreed to put forward what he considered to be the “strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation” right now.
“Forty years ago we had Pong, like two rectangles and a dot, and that was what games were,” he said.
“Now, 40 years later we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality and 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 1000 from what it is right now, then let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future which is nothing in 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 set top boxes and computers, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”