Private space wizard Elon Musk, like many other smart dudes, is a wee bit concerned about artificial intelligence. He has his own research group that’s looking into teaching robots not to go Skynet.
Slightly more concerning than that general eye on robots, however, was the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO and Paypal cofounder’s recent comment at a tech conference that he is worried we all live in a version of The Matrix. Worse, if we don’t live in a computer simulation, if this, as he called it, is “base reality,” then the world is about to end because we didn’t advance far enough to build such a simulation.
For a man famous in part for dreaming up crazy transportation ideas such as the Hyperloop, and for, you know, trying to privatize space travel, it’s kind of odd that he thinks the universe isn’t real (why are we bothing to explore it, then?). But he thinks that the lack of interaction with aliens so far in human history might mean be further proof that everything is a computer. The Fermi paradox, AKA the “where is all the intelligent life, yo?” question, might actually just mean the world is a lab experiment, possibly one run by ETs. As proof of the artificial quality of life, Musk suggested this:
“40 years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were. 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, we’ll have augmented reality.”
That’s a fascinating point and all, and his concern over simulations that are indistinguishable from reality are familiar to anyone who ever mused about what they’d do with their own Holodeck as on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But it doesn’t really lead to the conclusion that there’s a “one in billions” chance that the world is already artificial. It merely suggests that, yeah, if we keep advancing at this rate, maybe we’ll get that Holodeck.
The thing is, no matter how smart you are, this kind of musing is inherently bullshit. But it sounds unnerving all the same coming from someone hungry to travel to Mars and make sure humans survive as an awesome, space-faring people. He is thinking about this stuff while most of us, well, watch Star Trek instead, and therefore it feels all too credible coming from him.
Still, try not to worry about you not being real, or about how The Matrix sequels were so terrible. When, say, physicist Stephen Hawking muses over whether contacting aliens is wise, that’s a fair concern, and one that fiction has been dealing with since War of the Worlds and before. So what if this is The Matrix? As incomprehensible as alien contact is, nothing being real is an order of magnitute more absurd. It’s barely something we can comprehend, much less fret over. Or at least that’s what we’ve been programmed to think.