Tesla CEO Elon Musk's appearance at Code Conference 2016 gave us a few hints about what's to come with the Tesla Model 3, but perhaps more intriguing is the conversation he's been banned from having in hot tubs: are we all just living in a simulation?
The strongest argument for us being in a simulation, I think, is the following: 40 years ago we had Pong. Two rectangles and a dot, that was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it's getting better every year. People have virtual reality and augmented reality. 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 right now, then you just say let's imagine that 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 indisgintuishable from reality 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.
It's an interesting philosophical question, but ultimately a meaningless one that we'll never be able to answer. Our perception of our reality is formed entirely by our senses, and if those senses are being fed data from a computer simulation then there's no way for us to ever be sure that what we're seeing is the true reality or what reality even is — or if we're even real or just sentient simulations ourselves, forever trapped inside a computer.
Odds are you've seen The Matrix. In it, Neo is presented with a quandary: his mundane life is actually a simulation and he can stay and forget he was ever told anything that contradicted this reality (blue pill) or leave and enter the real world (red pill). But what's to say that the real world where humans are pod people harnessed by their machine overlords for energy is actually reality and not just another layer of simulation the machines created to keep the particularly strong-willed pod people busy with simulated rebellion?
Ultimately, it's a meaningless question because the answer cannot matter. If we are constructs of a thoroughly realistic simulation, then there's nothing that we can do about that. If this is actually base reality, then there's also nothing we can do about that. Hell, our simulated reality might someday progress to the point where we're able to simulate our own realities within our simulated computers.
Am I real? Am I a simulation writing about the philosophical quandary of being in a simulation?