Why the Matrix Resurrections trailer brings the Simulation Hypothesis one step closer to reality
When The Matrix was released in 1999, the idea that we might be living inside a hyper-realistic video game or computer simulation that was indistinguishable from physical reality, what we now call the simulation hypothesis, seemed firmly in the realm of science fiction.
Now, with the release of the official trailer for Matrix Resurrections, when you look beyond the action sequences, the idea doesn’t seem so far out.
What has changed? For one thing, MMORPGs (Massively multiplayer role playing games) were in their infancy (both World of Warcraft and Fortnite were still years in the future), and portable virtual reality was just a pipe dream. Today, video games are one of the biggest industries in the world, with billions of players controlling their avatars online at any one time.
CEOs of big tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft are talking about investing in the “metaverse”- an interconnected series of 3D worlds that bridge the real world to the virtual world- which is touted as the next stage of the Internet. And it’s not just gamers. Philosophers like Oxford’s Nick Bostrom and tech magnates like Elon Musk and scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson have all speculated that we are more likely to be inside a Matrix-like simulation than not, giving credence and momentum to the simulation hypothesis.
In the new trailer, in addition to gorgeous shots of San Francisco, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) both are where we might expect them to be: back inside the Matrix. More importantly, they cannot seem to remember each other, but have the nagging feeling they’ve met before.
What does this reveal about the simulation hypothesis? For one thing, it shows that an on-going multiplayer simulation can always be re-started or run forwards or backwards. We don’t know if the new movie is a continuation of the timeline from the previous films, or if the Matrix was “reset” to before Neo took the famous “red pill” offered to him by Morpheus (named after the Greek god of dreams).
This brings us to an important point about simulations, which was first made by prolific science fiction writer Philip K Dick (author of Blade Runner and the Man in the High Castle) in 1977: that in a computer programmed reality, variables can be changed, the system can be rewound, and run again, and the only clue we might have were feelings of déjà vu, as if we had seen certain people or places, or heard or said the same things before.
However, the key piece of technology that the Matrix relied on, then and now, described in detail in my previous book, The Simulation Hypothesis, was the cord that was used to beam the Matrix directly into a person’s brain. Today, we call this a Brain Computer Interface (BCI), and it’s no longer in the realm of pipe dream tech.
Today, devices are being rolled out that can read signals from the brain, and these electrical signals may some day serve the same purpose as the stream of blue pills that we see Neo taking every day in the new trailer: to induce a state of forgetfulness of the real world. All he remembers are dreams that weren’t really dreams because they seem real.
A few years ago, I was playing a virtual reality ping pong game and it felt so realistic that for a moment forgot completely that I wasn’t playing a real game in the real world. I attempted to put the “paddle” down on the “table” – but there was no table and the controller fell to the floor. All I had to do was take off the VR headset to get back to the real world – no red pill needed.
While we don’t yet know the exact details of the plot, the new trailer for The Matrix Resurrections should remind us that what seemed like science fiction only a few decades ago is becoming commonplace today. How can we be so sure we aren’t in a simulation right now? As British intellectual Havelock Ellis asked, dreams seem real while we are in them – can we say any more of life?
Rizwan Virk is a computer scientist and video game pioneer, founder of Play Labs @ MIT, currently at Arizona State University’s College of Global Futures, and the author of The Simulation Hypothesis and the upcoming book, The Simulated Multiverse. Follow him on Twitter @rizstanford, and at zenentrepreneur.com