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Your life's a simulated reality, says Silicon Valley

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:45 IST

A couple of Silicon Valley-based billionaire's might have taken on the mantle from Morpheus, and are trying to show us - think of us as Neo prototypes, only less good looking - the reality for what it is: a matrix.

This isn't another Matrix sequel, nor is it another dystopian bestseller. It's an actual news development. Top-tier techies from the Valley have made statements in the past about their belief in the theory and even Elon Musk has joined in the conversation.

However, the latest comes in the form of a New Yorker piece on Sam Altman. Altman is the co-founder of Y Combinator, a startup "accelerator" that runs a three-month boot camp, twice a year that tells you how to make it as a 'Unicorn' - a Valley word to describe a billion-dollar company. Altman is also the co-founder of the nonprofit OpenAI, whose objective is basically to stop artificial intelligence from "accidentally" killing the whole of humanity. OpenAI's other, more prominent co-founder being Elon Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla and SpaceX.

We're all living in a simulation

The New Yorker piece gives a detailed insight into Altman's vision for future tech but the section which has everyone interested is where Altman talks about simulation theory - the idea that people are simply characters in someone else's computer simulation.

Many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis, the argument that what we experience as reality is in fact fabricated in a computer; two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation. To Altman, the danger stems not from our possible creators but from our own creations. He gives the example of phones to Tad Friend, the writer of the piece saying: "These phones (frowning at his iPhone SE) already control us."

Altman goes on to say that, "The merge has begun-and a merge is our best scenario. Any version without a merge will have conflict: we enslave the A.I. or it enslaves us". There's no indication of who the top-level entrepreneurs may be that have taken an interest in simulation theories though.

An Educated Guess

When it comes to high technology, Elon Musk's name is sure to crop up. Many feel that Musk is definitely one of the billionaires funding research into finding a way out of the simulation we inhabit. Reason? Well, Musk has been more upfront about it himself.

At the Recode Code Conference in June this year, Musk said: "There's a one in billions chance we're in base reality. The strongest argument for us being in a simulation, probably being in a simulation is the following: 40 years ago, we had pong, two rectangles and a dot. That is what games were," pointing out that, "Now 40 years later we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it's getting better every year. And soon we'll have virtual reality, augmented reality, if you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality."

Here's Musk at the 2016 Code Conference, addressing a poignant question- Is life a video game?

Oh, and here's the Reddit community as well, pitching in with their thoughts on whether we're wading simulation.

The Simulation Hypothesis from 2013

Motherboard points out a simulated universe hypothesis by British philosopher Nicholas Bostrom that came into limelight in 2003. According to it, there are three plausible explanations for the nature of the universe:

1. We're literally living in a computer simulation

2. There is a strong aversion in advanced civilizations to making "ancestor simulations"--that is, highly evolved civilizations have no interest in making what are essentially video games of their past

3. Something destroys all civilizations before they're able to advance to the point where they are technologically capable of simulating consciousness

Musk, based on his past views on the subject, is a believer in the first point. Are you?

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First published: 7 October 2016, 6:36 IST