We at THG are hooked on Westworld, a show in which artificial intelligence lives in a world it is convinced is real.
The show got me thinking.
These AI don’t know they aren’t real. And yes, I know it’s a TV show, but what if we were in the same position?
Could it be that we aren’t actually real, but just think we are real?…
Are we living in VR?
Turns out I’m not the only one who’s had this thought. Many people believe we could be an advanced version of The Sims, from fans of the tinfoil hat fashion accessory to visionaries of our time — Elon Musk, for example.
Musk, the man behind Tesla, Paypal and SpaceX, has made his feelings on the possibility that we live in the virtual world pretty clear.
“There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality”
Bold statement, Musk. Although if none of this is real, why do you care so much about clean energy?
But that isn’t important.
What is important is that it isn’t just me and Musk. Recently, a huge swathe of scientists and academics put forward their support for the ‘simulation hypothesis’ an idea that we living in virtual reality.
Some people are taking their beliefs a step further though. Reports have emerged of an attempt to escape the virtual world we apparently live in. Two tech billionaires secretly — not so anymore — are working on a way of getting out of our pixelated prison.
All this might seem like insane ranting and raving, but think about it.
Is Living in Virtual Reality Even Possible?
Plenty of people have argued against this theory. The Guardian quotes Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at MIT, who said: “Are we probably in a simulation? I would say no”.
While he’s not a believer in the hypothesis, even Tegmark concedes that it is “logically possible that we are in a simulation”.
So what are the arguments for the simulation theory? Other than paranoia…
- Virtual sentience will exist: As the years go by, virtual reality and computer intelligence is becoming more advanced. Just look at Siri! It even watches Game of Thrones!
Evolution of the virtual machine looks like it will never stop. Tech is always getting more advanced.
It is conceivable that one day we will be able to create artificial intelligence that believes it is real, just as they’ve done in the TV show Westworld. Those who believe we are living in the VR think this event has already happened, and we are products of that success.
- Virtual minds outnumber real ones: This is the backing behind Musk’s statement. He believes that once we are able to create virtual minds, their numbers will expand exponentially.
Imagine a video game now. Hundreds, if not thousands of characters built to entertain one person, then replicated time and time again. If there is potential for us to be virtually created, and virtual minds outnumber real ones, then the chances of us being virtual rather than real is actually pretty high, statistically speaking.
- The physical realm operates like a computer: NASA scientist Rich Terrile, a believer in the simulation hypothesis, argues that the very building blocks of our universe point at it actually being a virtual reality.
“Even things that we think of as continuous – time, energy, space, volume – all have a finite limit to their size. If that’s the case, then our universe is both computable and finite. Those properties allow the universe to be simulated”. Terrile explains.
And the whacko has a point. Everything is made of something, even empty spaces are full of atoms and subatomic particles. Potentially pixels on a massive scale.
Our brains are also very mechanical. Working through electrical impulses and storing memories, ‘or data’, like a computer. We used to call the big chunky part a computer a ‘brain’ after all.
How Can We Work Out If We’re Living Inside Virtual Reality?
Eggheads obsessed with the idea of us living in a virtual reality are trying to prove it. Answering a question truly unique to the digital age: are we real?
Unlike the existence of God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, scientists believe they can prove or disprove the simulation hypothesis.
The first tests come through fundamental analysis of the universe. Some believe that if the universe is simulated, corners were probably cut somewhere to save on time and resources.
Think video games, when only the reachable limits of the game are simulated, but sometimes you find a glitch. In machines, code sometimes also goes wrong and executes incorrectly. In a computer smart enough to simulate life, you’d imagine there are plenty of safeguards in place, but something could go wrong…
Another way of checking if we are in VR is to discover whether or not our belief that we could create such artificial intelligence comes to fruition. We haven’t met the challenges of making virtual sentience yet, we just assume one day we will. Until we can either prove or disprove that fact, it is difficult to truly argue either case.