"There's a billion to one chance we're living in base reality," Elon Musk said tonight on stage at Recode's Code Conference, meaning that one of the most influential and powerful figures in tech thinks that it's overwhelmingly likely we're just characters living inside a simulation.
The Verge co-founder Josh Topolsky got half-way through asking Musk if he thought our existence was simulated before the Tesla CEO jumped in to finish his question for him. "I've had so many simulation discussions it's crazy," Musk explained. "You've thought about this?" Topolsky asked. "A lot," Musk replied. "It got to the point where every conversation was the AI / simulation conversation, and my brother and I agreed that we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub."
"We've banned this conversation from hot tubs"
His argument — one presumably honed in the soothing waters of many a jaccuzi — goes that the incredibly fast advancement of video game technology indicates we'll be capable of creating a fully lifelike simulation of existence in a short span of time. In 40 years, Musk explained, we've gone from Pong to massively multiplayer online games with millions of simultaneous players, games with photorealistic graphics, and stand now on the cusp of a new wave of virtual and augmented reality experiences.
"If you assume any rate of improvement at all then games will become indistinguishable from reality," Musk said. "Even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now, let's just imagine it's 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale." Given that we're on that trajectory and that these games are increasingly playable on any device, Musk said, the odds that we are living our lives in base reality — that is, "real" reality — is one in billions.
It's not necessarily a bad thing
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. "If a civilization stops advancing then that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization," Musk said, presenting two options. "Either we're going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist."
Does it mean that the man famously worried about the dangers of artificial intelligence is artificial intelligence himself? Or are we avatars being guided by creatures in another reality? Perhaps those figures are themselves being controlled by a third existence? Maybe it's simulations all the way up, and we're just the game inside the game, like the versions of Minecraft built inside Minecraft?
There are billions of possibilities here, but one thing's for sure — you can see why Musk banned this topic of conversation in his hot tubs.