We could be living in a matrix – a computer generated simulation. If we were, you would likely never know, and it would likely never matter. I don’t mean that our physical bodies are sitting in pods of the liquefied dead who are fed to us intravenously while our minds are plugged into a computer, and if we could only realize this truth, we could put on bondage gear and dodge bullets. That’s obviously the ideal circumstance, but it’s unlikely. The energy economics of it don’t make sense.
A Brief Aside in Which I Discuss Using Humans as Batteries
A human being produces about 250 British Thermal Units (BTUs) while asleep; these are units of electrical energy. That’s about enough energy to power four energy-efficient (the curly ones) lightbulbs. Assuming that the machines’ war of extermination kills half of the human population, that’s only about 4 billion people. There are probably more than 16 billion lightbulbs turned on right now.
The entire surviving human population would only be capable of generating enough energy to turn on the lights. That doesn’t seem like nearly enough energy to power a massive robot army and all of the servers required to power the matrix. In 2014, US data center servers consumed 70 billion kilowatt-hours. That’s the equivalent of about 6 million US homes. I didn’t do the math because they don’t teach that at poetry school, but I know I have lots of lights in my house. The point is, the matrix would require more data by an order of magnitude. So, apologies to 12 year old me, but it seems unlikely we’re living in that kind of matrix.
The Matrix We Could Live In
We might not be physical beings floating in human goo while plugged into a computer; however, we definitely could be computer simulations ourselves. Essentially, we might be non-playable characters (NPCs) in a very complex video game. Here’s my thinking: computers increase in power and capability constantly. The video games of 2021 would look like magic even 20 years ago.
So, if computer capability continues to increase at pace, we will eventually be able to create simulations (video games) in which the NPCs have some kind of consciousness. They might not achieve a consciousness comparable to our own, but they would only know the world of the video game. In that world, they might be aware of their surroundings, capable of making choices, and capable of doing their own (limited) thinking. If they were unaware of the outside world, they would never be aware of how limited their thinking is.
Should we achieve this level of digital complexity, it would be replicable by every similarly powerful computer. Each instance of a video game would essentially be its own little universe. That would mean as soon as the ability is gained, millions of pocket universes would be created. In 2019, FIFA 20 for the PS4 sold 893,000 units. That would be 893,000 pocket universes created in that year alone.
Assuming (that’s a big assumption) that we will achieve something like believable facsimiles of reality, that would mean that there is one reality and millions upon millions of artificial realities. What are the chances that you just so happen to be living in the actual reality? One in billions.
Could be we living in some artificial reality created by future humans? Could it be a video game created by incomprehensibly advanced aliens?
To my mind, there are only two options: there is one reality and zero artificial realities or there is one reality and billions of artificial realities. If the latter is the case, we are almost statistically guaranteed to be living in a simulation.
Or, maybe we’re not. Either way, you’re never getting out. So, it doesn’t really matter, does it?