We live in the matrix?

Picture of an office worker at the matrix
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

13 October 2016

According to research by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, there is a 20-50% chance that we currently live in a virtual reality world and experience life as a simulation.

Analysts at the bank suggest that we would never be able to tell that we are living in an illusion, so don’t start trying to bend spoons and walk through walls anytime soon. Sci-fi and Red Dwarf fans will perhaps start sweating at the thought that they could wake up as a real-life Dwayne Dibley having failed at a total immersion video game.

The idea is not that far-fetched – in 2015, artificial intelligence beat humans in a test of visual recognition, and there are 50m monthly active users on Pokemon Go, which overlays a virtual world on our own. Between now and 2020, around 250m virtual and augmented reality headsets are projected to be sold to the general public, so the bridge between the physical and digital world is beginning to close.

“It is conceivable that with advancements in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and computing power, members of future civilizations could have decided to run a simulation of their ancestors," the report stated. 

The limits of our technology keep disappearing into the horizon, and indeed it wasn’t that long ago that we were fascinated by the powers of a ZX Spectrum and 8-bit tennis balls.  

Elon Musk floated the idea earlier this year, when he claimed that there is a one in billions chance that we are not living in a computer simulation. “Forty years ago we had Pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were,” he said.  

“Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it's getting better every year. Soon we'll have virtual reality, augmented reality.  

If they think this world is a simulation, then why do they think the superminds – who are outside the simulation – would be constrained by the same sorts of thoughts and methods that we are? 

Professor Peter Millican, Oxford University

“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. Then you just say, okay, let's imagine it's 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.”  

He points to our drive towards making games “indistinguishable” from reality, and that it would follow that we are currently living within this virtual world.

“Arguably we should hope that that's true,” he continued, “because if civilization stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization. So maybe we should be hopeful this is a simulation because otherwise we are going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist. We're unlikely to go into some multimillion-year stasis."

Professor Peter Millican, who teaches philosophy and computer science at Oxford University, said: "The theory seems to be based on the assumption that ‘superminds’ would do things in much the same way as we would do them.

"If they think this world is a simulation, then why do they think the superminds – who are outside the simulation – would be constrained by the same sorts of thoughts and methods that we are?"  

The virtual and augmented reality world has the potential to generate billions for the economy, so our strategist students with an eye on the future should stay tuned into how the markets could be potentially reshaped with technology.

The software could even be used to help with audits by overlaying digital information on the physical world. The CA of tomorrow will be operating in a vastly changed world (or continuing in a virtual one)!


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