In The Matrix, humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality created by intelligent machines in order for said machines to use the humans' bodies as an energy source. While that definitely sounds like a work of fiction, there are some who think that we really are living in a simulation and according to some scientists, there's a 50-50 chance it's true. In a new report from Scientific American (via IGN), the odds of whether or not we're living in a simulation of reality instead of the real deal could come down to something as simple as a coin flip.
The actual odds, per the report come down to 50.222222 to 49.777778 whether life is real or an elaborate computer program. The odds are generally based on philosopher Nick Bostrom's 2003 paper "Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?" which offers three possibilities.
"I argue that at least one of the following propositions is true," Bostrom says in his paper. "(1): the human species is very likely to become extinct before reaching 'posthuman' stage; (2): any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3): we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we shall one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation," the paper's abstract reads.
The idea of simulated reality is actually nothing new -- even including Bostrom's paper and The Matrix films. According to Scientific American, the idea has roots all the way back to Plato's cave allegory and Zhuang Zhou's butterfly dream. What's interesting about the concept of the simulated reality in Bostrom's theory is that it focuses on computing power and the idea that a computer powerful enough to create our whole existence exists -- as well as the idea that if this computer did exist and we are living in a simulation, we'd never be able to recognize that.
Columbia University astronomer David Kipping noted in his own examination of Bostrom's theory -- which combines the first two of Bostrom's criteria that there is no simulation to arrive at the 50-50 odds -- that simulations also couldn't create their own simulations largely due to available resources.
"That is because as simulations spawn more simulations, the computer resources available to each subsequent generation dwindles to the point where the vast majority of realities will be those that do not have the computing power necessary to simulate offspring realties that are capable of hosting conscious beings."2comments
It's a lot, but ultimately it boils down to we're in a simulation or we aren't in a simulation which isn't likely to settle the discussion but certainly makes for an interesting thought exercise -- as well as entertainment.
What do you think? Are we living in a simulation? Does our asking the question of whether or not we're living in a situation mean this is reality? Are you just excited for the fourth The Matrix film? Let us know in the comments.