2,527 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Part of the reason The Matrix burned such an indelible mark on the world’s imagination was because it seemed so plausible (apart from the moments when the script calls for Keanu Reeves to convey emotions other than confusion). How do we know that we’re not the subjects of some elaborate simulation?
Terrifyingly, that’s exactly what NASA scientist Rich Terrile thinks might be going on. According to his theory, which he expounded in a recent interview with VICE, we could be part of a complex simulation of an entire universe. Taking into account various suspicious elements of our so-called reality – including startling reports of scientists encountering a kind of cosmic pixelation in the highest resolution microscope images – Terrile (who we may as well just call Morpheus) calculates our existence is mathematically equivalent to a hyper-advanced simulation. This means there’s just no way of knowing whether we’re real or not.
But if our universe is just a futuristic Tamagotchi, what’s its purpose? After all, one of the most comforting plot holes in The Matrix is the fact that using human beings as living batteries is a terrible idea: it takes more energy to keep a human body alive than you could ever harvest from it.
Morpheus Terrile believes that there may be a scientific purpose to our simulated universe. What we know as the laws of physics may just be parameters decided by our creator as part of an experiment, and may be very different from those that govern the “real” world (or should that be the real “real world?” This is more confusing than The Matrix Reloaded).
While news like this may make us feel like retreating into existential despair, we could instead draw inspiration from our futuristic puppeteers. The gamification of academic research has already proven successful, with projects like Foldit using simple puzzle games to solve a whole range of scientific mysteries. But what if we could create simulated environments that harnessed the freedom and escapism of gaming to further our knowledge of the universe, just as Terrile’s futuristic programmers may have done by creating us?
Of course, this raises yet another mind-bending possibility: the society that created our simulation could itself be part of a simulation. We could be a game inside a game (inside a game (inside a game (inside a game))). But before your mind melts entirely, it’s worth noting that if we follow Terrile’s logic, we can actually draw comfort from this possibility.
The reason Terrile doesn’t mind potentially not existing is that if our universe was designed, then it can be understood. Besides, just because we may exist virtually, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in making sure our simulated universe is a good place to live. And as any gamer knows, pushing the limits of a computer program can lead to some pretty desirable consequences.
When you look at it like that, a well-ordered simulation is infinitely less terrifying than a chaotic, unknowable original. Of course, if you’re one of the millions of people who escape from the stress of life by playing simulation games like The Sims or FarmVille, you already know how comforting a simulation can be. (Unless the simulation’s maker is trying to steal your name, like Zynga is attempting to do with Ville. This is even more annoying than when Smallville came out.)
For those of us in the gamification industry, the popularity of the simulation genre could offer a relatively simple way to gamify experiments in a range of sciences. By allowing scientists to create a setting, give it its own laws and then observe as gamers play out the possibilities, gamification could be the key to creating our own fully functioning simulated universes. (Clearly the potential for crowdsourcing applications are enormous, too.)
With FarmVille drawing 32 million daily users at its peak, the simulation-game audience represents an incredible opportunity for gamified science. Rich Terrile’s super-advanced civilization may be using us to better understand their universe, so why shouldn’t we try to do the same? After all, if we are just characters in some colossal video game, isn’t it in our best interests to work out the cheat codes?
- Ville "Wili" Miettinen is the founder and CEO of Microtask. He is a serial entrepreneur and investor, with 15 years of professional experience in software engineering and computer graphics. Wili was one of the founders of Hybrid Graphics (later NVIDIA Finland), a pioneer in real-time 3D graphics technologies. He has also been involved with the evolution of various open standards. Over the last few years Wili has been active in the Finnish early-stage technology investment scene, and holds board positions in a number of companies in the industry.