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Elon Musk thinks we’re basically living in the Matrix, and we should be glad about it

The simulated world depicted in The Matrix may be more reality than fantasy, according to Elon Musk, who made the argument yesterday at Recode’s annual Code Conference. The futurist and business magnate responded to a question by journalist Josh Topolsky with a well-considered argument and the conclusion that we most likely exist in a computer-generated reality of an advanced civilization.

Beginning forty years ago with the creation of basic video games like pong, Musk points out that video games have made exponential improvements in the subsequent decades to the point of today’s photorealistic, 3D simulations.

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“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now,” Musk said. “Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.”

“So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality,” he continued, “and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”

That’s right – to Musk’s estimation, there’s a very high likelihood that our perceived reality is actually some form of simulation.

This shouldn’t be disheartening, Musk said. Rather, we should hope to be living in a simulation because that means there’s hope for humanity. If we can eventually create realistic simulations – and the rate of technological advancement suggests that we can – then we will create billions of simulated worlds with billions of simulated beings. And if we can create these simulated beings, then we may well be the product of another civilization’s simulation. If this other civilization managed to create simulated realties, then it didn’t meet a devastating downfall.

If, however, we can’t create realistic simulations, it will be because we’ve suffered some calamitous event and, thus, humanity is doomed. “[Either] we create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist,” Musk said.