2 Billionaires Are Financing an Escape From the Real Matrix

Two billionaires are apparently funding research into how we can escape the simulation they believe we’re trapped in.

Do you think we’re actually living in a gigantic computer simulation like the one in The Matrix? If you do, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in some very famous, very wealthy company. Near the end of a recent New Yorker article about Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley tech-company incubator, this paragraph raised the possibility we’re in need of a red pill:


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

The billionaires weren’t named, but we can guess. Earlier in the piece, its writer, Tad Friend, pointed out something odd to one of his interviewees, Y Combinator president Sam Altman. Friend noted that Altman apparently hadn’t visited a bathroom over the course of several days’ interviews. Altman responded, “I will practice going to the bathroom more often so you humans don’t realize that I’m the A.I.” It could be he wasn’t 100% joking.

Were is all that coffee going, Mr. Altman? (DREW ANGERER)

Another breakout candidate is Elon Musk, who claimed in an interview at Recode’s Code Conference 2016 that the odds of us not being in a simulation are “one in billions.” His reasoning is that with all the advancements we’ve seen already, how could it not happen?

(RECODE)

Musk suggests this has been a conversation in a lot of the hot tubs he soaks in with his (presumably also-wealthy) friends, some of whom are deeply involved in virtual-reality projects. Certainly, current systems like Oculus couldn’t fool anyone, but these people spend their days immersed in VR and new tech, dreaming and designing future capabilities, so they would naturally be drawn to the question. Wait a minute. Wasn’t humanity actually trapped and wired into (let’s say hot) tubs in The Matrix?

At least one major company whose business depends on a clear-eyed assessment of imminent possibilities also agrees this could be where we really are. Financial behemoth Bank of America considers the odds of us living in a simulation to be as high as 50%. Yipes.

Image sent out to BOM clients (BANK OF AMERICA MERRILL LYNCH)

Big Think recently asked Bill Nye what he thought of the entire notion, and he asked the really simple unanswerable question: How could we ever know, absent a really inarguable glitch? [Insert Trump joke here.]

A skeptic could ask why ubiquitous overlords would even allow this topic to come up in our simulated discussions — or allow the release of a movie like The Matrix — if they didn’t want us to know. (Maybe the two Matrix sequels were supposed to ruin the original.) Could letting the topic come up in conversation or science fiction be a way to de-pressurize and de-fang doubts our programmers consider inevitable? Maybe articles like this, in which the writer doesn’t believe it’s a simulation, are part of that steam-letting mechanism.

In a way, maybe choosing to believe we’re in a simulation fills an unconscious need for a post-religion, science-based God. And it’s not like escaping a matrix would answer all of our Big Questions: We still would want to know if there’s a reason we exist and what happens when we die.

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Here's when machines will take your job, as predicted by A.I. gurus

An MIT study predicts when artificial intelligence will take over for humans in different occupations.

Photo credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / AFP / Getty Images
Surprising Science

While technology develops at exponential speed, transforming how we go about our everyday tasks and extending our lives, it also offers much to worry about. In particular, many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. And chances are, this number could be even higher and the massive job loss will come earlier.

Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less