Computing power continues to grow exponentially year after year. The stronger our computers are, the stronger the computers we can then build are. When I was in middle school I thought the Motorola Razor was the coolest thing in the world, today I can watch TV on my phone while I’m on a plane 30,000 ft. up. This process is not going to stop.
If humans can make it another thousand or so years, which is by no means a guarantee, we will reach the point where we can build computer simulations of entire worlds. Eventually, if we build a world that is similar in make-up to ours, this world would be able to simulate another world, once they reach the same point of technological advancement. If we believe that we will someday have the computing power to construct simulated societies (we will), then why wouldn’t we already be in the middle of this process? Are we really to believe that we are the true start of this chain of events?
The idea that we are living in a simulation gained public notoriety when Elon Musk basically posed the same hypothetical question that I just laid out, in a much more intelligent manner, at a conference about a year ago. However, instead of just stopping there, he then took the next step and said that he believes, nearly certainly, that we are not in base reality. In fact, he said that there is a 99% chance that we are not living in base reality. To be clear, I am not saying I am totally on board with Elon, however, I think it is less crazy than you would immediately think, and would go as far to say that is it is entirely plausible.
The important thing to note about this subject is that if we were all just a part of a giant a computer game, we would not necessarily know it, ever. It is natural to hear something like this and push back immediately and say things like: “I have feelings! Computer simulations can’t feel emotions”. To which I say, says who? The computers we have built to this point can’t feel emotions (to our knowledge) but someday we will have ability to code emotion into artificial intelligence. The thing about computer advancement is that it occurs exponentially. Once you build something, you use that same technology to build the next thing, creating a snow ball effect. One day we will be able to code basic humans emotions into machines, a short time after we will have diagnosable computer depression, and I’m being completely serious. All we know is the emotions that we experience, of course it feels real to us, we have nothing to compare it to, how would we ever know otherwise? We wouldn’t. So, to say that it’s impossible for us to be in a simulation because of our supposedly unique emotions does nothing for the argument against simulation theory.
Although fun to consider, in our lifetimes, we will never know if our universe is truly base reality. But, an important question arises from this discussion: if we were to find out that we are living in some kind of simulation, does it matter? In my opinion, it does not. To some religious people out there, this sentiment may be asinine, but I would argue this realization gives us rejuvenated hope as a society rather than crushes it. Here’s what Bill Gates had to say about the possibility of living in a simulation:
“If the simulation hypothesis is valid then we open the door to eternal life and resurrection and things that formally have been discussed in the realm of religion,” Gates suggested. “The reason is quite simple: If we’re programs in the computer, then as long as I have a computer that’s not damaged, I can always re-run the program.”
The world we live in would not cease to exist upon this realization (unless that’s the end level of the game we are in, which in that case, throw out everything I have written), we would move on and adapt. Our reality is still what we experience, and as long as we still experience emotions, what we know to be reality will continue on. Maybe a clear sense of our creation would give us a newfound unity as a people or give us incentive to make the most out of the time we have in our crazy little simulation. Or, maybe I’m a pussy optimist and this realization would send our society into a downward spiral filled with anarchy, despair and mass-murder. Culminating with our acne-ridden, teenage creator turning off the simulation he was running in his parents basement that in his universe only lasted a matter of minutes. Either one.