Between making electric cars and space rockets, then coming up with the Hyperloop in his spare time, you might think Elon Musk has enough going on. But apparently not, because he's been thinking "a lot" about whether our lives are real, or a video game simulation developed by a previous civilisation.
During an interview with Recode on 1 June, Musk was asked if our lives and everything around us are part of a simulation and not actually real. The audience and presenters Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher laughed, but Musk had what he considered a well thought-out and sensible answer.
Interrupting the question with: "I've had so many simulation discussions, it's crazy. It got to the point where basically every conversation was the AI and simulation conversation, and my brother and I finally agreed that we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub."
The theory posed to Musk was: "Any sufficiently advanced civilisation could create a simulation that's like our existence, so the theory follows that maybe we're in the simulation. Have you thought about this?"
Without skipping a beat, Musk answered: "A lot, even in hot tubs, so much so I had to be banned from a hot tub", followed by what was, somehow, a rational and seemingly sensible answer which explained that, yes, our lives could be a simulation.
"The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation is that 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, and soon we'll have virtual reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality."
Musk went on to say that, even if that rate of improvement drops by 1,000 from what it is now, then "you just say ok, let's imagine [achieving games indistinguishable from reality] is 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 indistinguishable from reality... and there would probably be billions of computers, it would seem to follow that the odds we are in base reality is one in billions."
Cue silence, then Musk asking: "Tell me what's wrong with that argument? Is there a flaw in that argument? I'm not sure of the error... There's a one in billions chance this is base reality... and arguably we should hope that's true, because otherwise if civilisation stops advancing then that maybe due to some calamitous event that erases civilisation. So maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation because otherwise... either we're going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilisation will cease to exist. Those are the two options."