I've seen The Matrix. You've seen The Matrix. And so we've both had the same thought: "Woah. Maybe we really are living inside a computer!"
(Since The Matrix is copyrighted and everything, this is more commonly referred to as "The Simulation Argument," as put forth by Oxford professor Nick Bostrom. (Thanks, Seth))
At least one scientist is actually trying to prove this to be true. In a new interview at Vice, NASA's Rich Terrile talks about his quest to prove that we are living inside of a computer simulation created by a programmer from the future.
By Terrile's reckoning, Moore's Law supports the idea that computers will grow advanced enough that this kind of thing will be possible. Among other things, Terrile supports his theory by pointing out "the observable pixelation of the tiniest matter and the eerie similarities between quantum mechanics, the mathematical rules that govern our universe, and the creation of video game environments."
Terrile cites the ever-improving PlayStation as his example of the speed of computational advances:
Now brace yourself: In 30 years we expect that a PlayStation-they come out with a new PlayStation every six to eight years, so this would be a PlayStation 7-will be able to compute about 10,000 human lifetimes simultaneously in real time, or about a human lifetime in an hour.
There's how many PlayStations worldwide? More than 100 million, certainly. So think of 100 million consoles, each one containing 10,000 humans. That means, by that time, conceptually, you could have more humans living in PlayStations than you have humans living on earth today.
That is indeed a lot of PlayStations! Terrile, who says he enjoys playing video games, goes on to explain how he's figured out the relative size of Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City as compared to his PlayStation 3. He then explains how that jibes with theories of quantum mechanics.
The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment of Grand Theft Auto IV. In the game, you can explore Liberty City seamlessly in phenomenal detail. I made a calculation of how big that city is, and it turns out it's a million times larger than my PlayStation 3. You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they're being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we're living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.
Awesomely, Terrile doesn't seem all that bummed out by the idea that we're all just figments of a really really really ridiculously advanced computer's imagination. I always kinda felt that way too, back in college when I'd have those deep Matrix-inspired philosophical conversations. After all, I get joy and sadness out of life—I love life! So who cares if it's all real or not?
I think Cypher said it best, as he sat in that restaurant with Agent Smith:
"You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss."
Woah, Dude, Are We Inside A Computer Right Now? [Vice via Mr. Mike]