Follow US:

Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Rizwan Virk: "The Simulation Hypothesis" | Talks at Google

Difficulty: 0


RIZWAN VIRK: Thanks, Piyush, for that introduction.

And it's great to be here in Mountain View.

I actually live just down the road,

so it took me all about three minutes to drive here.

So today, we're going to be talking about these topics--

video games, science fiction, computer science,

quantum physics, and mysticism.

It's quite a bit to pack into an hour.

And we need to leave some time for Q&A. Now,

you'll notice that I included two topics that sometimes

aren't discussed by a lot of academics or scientists,

which is science fiction and mysticism.

But it turns out they're actually

quite relevant and important when

we talk about the simulation hypothesis.

First, most of the references we have are from science fiction,

like "The Matrix."

And that's really the question that we're

going to be trying to answer today,

is, do we live in the Matrix?

But also, we start to get into this question of,

what is consciousness?

And it's something that science hasn't fully understood yet.

But mystics have been studying it for thousands of years.

So although sometimes scientists get upset at me--

why are you talking about mysticism and religion

in the same breath as quantum physics?

I did that deliberately.

So before we jump in, a little bit of background on myself.

As Piyush mentioned, I'm a technical guy by background.

Went to MIT undergrad many years ago and did some--

my thesis at the Media Lab on using gameification

for learning.

And then I did a bunch of enterprise software

stuff back in the '90s.

And then I moved out here about 10 years ago,

ended up going to business school.

But more importantly, I got involved in the video game

industry full time.

We created a game called "Tap Fish" on mobile,

which was the number one grossing game in the iPhone app

store when they first came out with in-app purchases,

and, of course, the number one game in the Google Play Store,

as well.

And then made a bunch of games based on TV shows.

And really started to think about how we build games.

Then I became an investor.

Invested in a bunch of different companies.

You may have even played some of these video games,

like Telltale Games has a "Game of Thrones"

game and a "Walking Dead" game.

And if you haven't used Discord, probably your kids have.

It's a very popular messaging app for gamers,

but now being used in a bunch of different worlds.

And then a couple years ago, I went back to MIT,

to the MIT Game Lab, which didn't

exist when I was a student.

And this is the one place that at MIT

where they study video games and the effect of video games.

And I started Play Labs.

But one of the important things that I learned

from some of the faculty there was

that playing games is one of the oldest human endeavors.

And if you look at how children learn social interaction,

it's often through playing games with each other.

So playfulness is an important topic.

More than that, I submit that most of what the technology

we use today for a variety of different applications,

whether it's AI, chat bots, cryptocurrency-- all

came from video games and entertainment in some way,

whether it's through GPUs or through early multi-user

dungeons, et cetera.

So the history of video games and the history of technology

are pretty intertwined.

And so that's why I'm going to talk a little bit

about the history of video games and how it ties to this idea

that we may, in fact, be living inside a giant video game.

So I got my start with video games a long time ago--

very classic video games back in the day of the Atari 2600--

"Space Invaders" and "Pac-Man."

But what really made an impression on my young mind

was when the game started to become a little more realistic.

We're still looking at an 8-bit video game

here, called "Pole Position."

I would always wonder what was beyond the racetrack.

You see the mountain that looks like Mount Fuji there?

And sometimes there would be bleachers with fake people.

And as I was playing the Atari, I

would wonder, what happens to those characters

when I'm not logged in?

Is there a real world within this video game where there's

actual conscious entities?

And of course, with the Atari, there weren't.

But this got more interesting as science fiction developed.

And as I got older, I was a big fan

of "Star Trek," as many of you may have been.

And you may remember the holodeck, which

was a limited space, but could project

any kind of simulated environment,

and it would feel real to the players

of the game, who were typically crew

members of "The Enterprise."

But the episode that really got me thinking about this

took place in the holodeck.

And there was a character named Professor Moriarty.

And for those of you who have seen

this will remember Data, the android,

played Sherlock Holmes in the simulation.

But this particular character was quite intelligent.

He actually figured out that some

of the people in the holodeck were simulated,

and some were real, and they were from a world out there--

"out there" being the rest of "The Enterprise."

And so he wanted to leave the holodeck,

and he wanted to get out of the simulation.

And so this inspired me to think about this topic

for many years.

And of course, the major reference these days

is "The Matrix," where Keanu Reeves plays

a character named Neo who is living a regular life as Mr.

Anderson, working in an office like many of us do.

And he comes across Morpheus, who's

played by Laurence Fishburne, who

is named after the Greek god of dreams,

who tells him that everything he sees around him is an illusion.

In fact, he says, you are living in a dream world.

But he also says that I can't tell you or show you--

I can't tell you what the Matrix is.

You have to see it for yourself.

And even those who haven't seen the movie probably

know the famous scene-- you can take

the red pill or the blue pill.

You take the red pill, you wake up to see what the Matrix is.

You take the blue pill, and you just keep on living your life.

Neo, of course, takes the red pill,

and he wakes up inside this pod.

And he finds that he has a connection into his neocortex--

which is probably why they called him Neo in the movie--

and that everything he thought was

reality was being beamed into his brain.

And so we'll talk a little bit about this

in the context of current technology

and where we're going and what this might mean.

And as Piyush mentioned, this topic

has gotten popular in the 20 years

since the release of "The Matrix."

Back then, it was just consider science fiction.

But there were a couple of reasons.

One of which is, Elon Musk said a few years ago,

at the Code Conference, that 40 years ago, we

had two squares and a dot.

That was the stage of video games.

We had "Pong," which was the first widely available video

game, made by Atari, right down the road here in Sunnyvale.

Today, we have virtual reality.

We have augmented reality.

And we have millions of online players on these MMORPGs and 3D


So what will happen in a few decades?

What will happen in 100 years from now?

Will we get to the point where the video is

indistinguishable from reality?

I would argue we're actually getting there very quickly.

So I had my own experience, speaking

of "Pong," a few years ago, when I was playing a ping pong

game using a virtual reality headset.

I think it was the Vive, in this case.

And I started to play this game.

And you'll notice that the resolution isn't that great.

The opponent is there, but it's not even

a photo realistic opponent.

But what happened was that the physics engine was so good

and the reactions were so dead on that I actually

felt like I was really playing table tennis.

And I forgot that I was in a virtual reality headset.

In fact, at the end of the game, I put the paddle down

on the table and I leaned against the table,

just like I might do after playing a game of table tennis.

Of course, the controller fell to the floor,

there was no table, and I almost fell over.

And so then, I really started to think,

it's not so much about the resolution.

It's about the responsiveness of the technology that

makes us believe we're in something when we're actually


And so I started to do a thought exercise that said,

could we build a Matrix?

How long would it take us to get there?

And what are the stages to get to what

I call the simulation point?

And that's the point at which we would

be capable of producing a video game that

is so indistinguishable from reality

that the players would not know that they were inside a game.

And if we could get there, that raises

a bigger question, which is about the simulation

hypothesis, which is, has someone already gotten there?

Now, what most people don't realize

is that there's two versions of the simulation hypothesis

out there.

And one of them is what I call the NPC version.

And it was put forth by a professor named Nick Bostrom

at Oxford University.

And we'll talk a little bit about his simulation argument,

which has gotten a lot of press.

But he put out a paper in 2003, "Are We

Living in a Simulation?"

And that got academics and others

to start taking this idea little more seriously.

But then, in that version, we're all simulated AI.

We're like non-player characters, or NPCs,

as we call them in the video world.

In the other version of the simulation hypothesis,

which I call the RPG version, we exist outside of the simulation

and we are playing roles, just as I

might have an avatar in "World of Warcraft" or "Second Life."

Consciousness exists outside the simulation.

And so when you look at some physicists like Max Planck, who

is one of the founders of many aspects of modern physics,

he says he views consciousness as fundamental

and matter as derivative.

In the other version, consciousness

is seen merely as a collection of neurons

and an emergent property.

So matter is primary, and consciousness is derivative.

And so that tug-of-war between these versions

of the simulation hypothesis is, I

think, one of the most interesting aspects

of this question.

The RPG version, by the way, is also the Matrix version.

Neo existed outside of the simulation.

Now, there were AIs or NPCs, like the famous Agent Smith,

inside the Matrix.

But most of the players actually existed outside.

So let's talk about Bostrom's simulation argument.

Many of you may have heard of it before.

But the basic idea is, he says that if there are civilizations

in our galaxy that get to this point--

and I call it the simulation point,

which is in the middle there--

that get to the point where they can create this technology,

then they are likely to create not just one simulation.

They're likely to create many simulations.

Actually, he makes the point that there's

three possibilities.

One, civilization never gets to that point--

which I doubt and many technologists doubt,

because we think we can get there.

The second point being, civilization gets there,

but they don't want to make any simulations.

And he calls them ancestor simulations, or simulations

of more primitive societies.

That's a possibility.

The third possibility, though, is they get there,

they create these simulations, and they create

lots and lots of simulations.

And so his point was that creating

a new civil-- a new simulation or a simulated universe

is just a matter of spinning up another server on Google Cloud

or wherever so we can have millions of simulated universes

with billions of beings within them.

Therefore, it's simple statistics, Bostrom says,

that if you count up all the simulated beings

in the universe and you add up all the biological beings

in the base reality, then you-- if you are a simulated being,

you are more-- if you are a being,

you are more likely to be a simulated being

than a real being-- simple probability.

There's way more of these than those.

And that's what led Elon Musk to say that the chances that we're

in base reality is one in billions,

because there are so many more of these beings.

So that's one version of the argument.

But I wanted to delve a little bit deeper and say, how do we

get there as a civilization?

And it all starts with video games.

So about a third of the book is dedicated

to how we build the technology.

And if we go back to the 1970s, text

adventures where the first place where

there was a virtual world inside the computer that

could be explored.

There were no graphics, but you could give little commands

like go north, go left.

And you could speak with NPCs.

Then we got graphical arcade games

like the ones I grew up with.

And today, we're at 3D, massively mulitplayer

online role playing games, where there are more realistic NPCs

and there are millions of people interacting with each other--

which brings up an interesting philosophical question.

If you and I are both playing "World of Warcraft,"

are we in the same space?

Are we even seeing the same world?

It's what I call the rendered world.

Of course, that's the beginning.

Stage 4 and 5 are about virtual reality

and photorealistic augmented reality.

Stage 6, though, is where it starts to get interesting,

because now we say, at some point,

we've got to get rid of the glasses.

I mean, even though I forgot for a moment

that I was playing ping pong, I did in fact

have the glasses on my head.

And I would have realized it eventually.

And so as we start to be able to render objects

in augmented reality using light field displays-- and the idea

is that you can figure out how the light bounces off

of this cup, for example.

Then what is the difference between the cup

and a physical object where light bounces off

the physical object?

The physical object becomes information.

And today's 3D printers are already showing us this.

We can take any physical object and we can encode it

into a set of pixels--

3D pixels.

Well, if that's true, then the distinction

between information and material reality starts to blur.

And that's actually one of the key points in my book,

is that we may be living in a world of information

and not a world of physical, material objects.

The more physicists open up--

they look down at the molecules.

They look at the atoms.

They look inside the atoms.

And they can't find physical matter.

There's nothing there when you keep opening up

the Russian nested dolls.

What is there is information.

But getting back to my point about ping pong,

the really critical stage is the brain-computer interface.

It's this ability to be able to beam into our minds a scene

and then to read back the results of how

we want to react to that scene.

And we'll talk about some analogies

for how that might work.

And then stage 8 is false memories.

Stage 9 would be AI that's much more

able to come across as human.

And then stage 10 is another controversial topic,

but one that's quite popular here in Silicon Valley,

which is downloadable consciousness.

Can I download my consciousness into a silicon device,

thereby living forever?

And we'll talk a little bit about this

in the context of consciousness and mysticism

later on, because there may already

be people who know how to do this without the silicon device

to upload and download consciousness.

And then we reach stage 11, the simulation point,

which is that point that I talked about.

So you'll notice that--

where are we in this?

We're at about five, six stages.

But we're not that far off from the other stages.

So let's talk a little bit about the things we still

have to develop.

So in brain-computer interfaces, the first step

is being able to project a picture into the mind.

And there have been experiments since the 1950s

where they used electrical currents,

and they were able to bring up particular scenes in the mind.

The harder part of it may be to actually, as

in the case of the Matrix, to get your responses.

Well, it turns out, there's actually

a biological technology already that does this.

It happens to each of us every night.

It's when we dream.

Our dreams are like mini simulations.

We have scenes projected in front of our minds.

Some of the characters are real, some of them are not.

We react to those scenes.

And we see the results.

It's the same basic gameplay loop

that we use when we build video games.

We present something.

We wait for your response.

I mean, today's video games, you're

still doing dialogue trees and things like that.

But being able to detect people's responses.

Now, just last week, Elon Musk unveiled neural link,

which is a chip that can go in the brain that will

be able to enhance using AI.

There's a startup in Boston called Neurable that is already

trying to be able to predict your responses so that you

can actually control video game characters.

Now, this may or may not involve an actual physical wire

or a physical chip.

Some of us may not want to put a chip in our minds.

There was a group at Princeton, at the Advanced Engineering

Anomalies Research Lab, where they looked at random number


And they found that quantum random number generators could

be influenced by your thoughts.

And so there's a few companies now

that are trying to commercialize this technology

without necessarily requiring it to plug into your brain--

that if you change your thoughts,

it changes the color of a lamp, for example.

So we're still in the early stages here,

but there's a research group at Berkeley

that found that they could get rough ideas of what

you were dreaming.

So these technologies are coming.

They're still in their infancy, but they're not as

far off as you might think.

We then moved to stage 8, which is the area of false memories.

Some of you may have seen the movie

"Blade Runner," which was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick.

So what many people don't know is that in 1977, Philip K. Dick

was in Metz, France.

And he gave a talk.

And he said, we live in a computer-generated reality,

and the only clue we have is when something

in our environment changes.

In fact, he really believed this.

I interviewed his wife, Tessa Dick, as part of my research

for the book.

Some of you may have seen "The Man

in High Castle," which is a pretty popular science fiction


He actually believed that that was an alternate timeline that

actually happened and that the creators of the simulation

decided to unwind that timeline and re-- and go forward again.

So now, we're at the intersection

of science fiction, mysticism, and the simulation hypothesis.

So let me jump forward.

AI and NPCs-- the first practical AI--

not many people know this-- was Claude Shannon, who

was a professor at MIT and Bell Labs,

where he created a chess-playing computer.

And in that same year, in 1950, Alan Turing came up with his

idea of the imitation game, which is now known

as the Turing test-- here at Google,

I'm sure you guys have all heard of this--

where the idea is that behind one curtain,

there's a computer.

And the other curtain, there's a person.

And if you can't tell the difference,

then it has passed the imitation game or passed the Turing test.

We seem to be getting closer to it.

We're not quite there yet with our NPCs.

We still use dialog trees, if you've played a Telltale game.

It'll say, what do you want to say back to this character?

But we're getting there on the video game side.

So it's just a matter of time, I think,

before we get realistic-looking NPCs.

And then we get to stage 10, downloadable consciousness.

And so the question here is-- gets back

to that fundamental question.

Is consciousness just a set of information

that can be downloaded and put into a silicon device?

Or is it something else that exists

somewhere else, in which case simply copying the neurons

isn't enough?

So far, we've had computers which

have simulated all the neurons and the neural connections

within a rat's brain, which is a much smaller number

than the human brain.

So it's not that-- it won't be that long before we're

able to simulate all of the neurons

and all of the neural connections of a human brain.

I think the number is something like 10 to the 39.

Once we can do that, do we have the ability

to replicate consciousness?

But this brings us now to metaphysical questions.

Many of you may have heard of the quantum teleportation done

in China of a particular particle to a satellite.

But really, what they're teleporting

is the information contained in that particle, not the particle


So the question is, if you replicate

somebody's neural structure, are you

creating a copy of that person, or is it actually that person?

So these are deeper philosophical issues

than the technology itself.

But again, we're not that far off.

So it's very possible that we'll be able to get to stage 10.

And once we do, we're at the simulation point.

So if we can get to the simulation point,

who's to say that someone hasn't already gotten there?

And perhaps they've left clues for us in our physical world,

either intentionally or unintentionally,

that we're living inside a video game.

So let's shift and talk a little bit about the physics.

Now, I'm not going to spend too much time on this.

I'm not a physicist.

But there's some really interesting aspects

of quantum physics.

And Niels Bohr one said, "those who are not shocked when they

first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood


Physicists have gotten to the point where

they no longer want to ask the big questions about quantum


They say, let's just get down to the calculations

and figure out some of the details.

But the big question and the big mysteries

are, why do things happen in this way?

And a couple of the big mysteries

are quantum indeterminacy and quantum entanglement.

Why would we live in a universe where these things exist?

That's the question that I believe physicists don't have

the answer for but which the simulation hypothesis provides

a pretty good answer.

So most of you may have heard of quantum indeterminacy.

This is the famous double-slit experiment

where if a particle is going through these two slits,

it starts off as a probability wave.

And then the probability wave collapses

to a single possibility when it's observed.

So here's an example of a wave.

And probably, the better way to understand that

is Schrodinger's infamous cat.

And so common sense tells us that Schrodinger's cat

is either alive or dead inside this box.

And Schrodinger gave a scenario where

they put some radioactive material in the box,

within the cat--

with the cat, so that within an hour,

it would have a 50% chance of being alive

and 50% chance of being dead.

So common sense says it's either alive or dead,

we just don't know, because we haven't opened up the box.

Quantum physics tells us, no, both of those possibilities

actually exist.

And it's not until someone actually

observes it that that possibility collapses

the probability wave.

And there's a few different theories

of what causes the collapse of the probability wave.

But it seems to be that the rule of thumb

is that in quantum physics in our physical universe,

only that which gets observed actually gets rendered--

because you need an observer.

Now, there's some debate over whether that observer can

be a machine, an AI, or it has to be a conscious observer.

And maybe if we have time, I'll talk about some experiments

that are being done in Southern California

to try to nail that down.

But it needs to be observed.

Only then does it get rendered.

Well, this reminded me a lot of video games.

In early video games, there was a shared rendered world.

I don't know if anyone knows which video game this is,

but this is a game called "King's Quest" from the 1980s.

And you'll notice that all of the pixels exist on memory.

And as your character moves, all you have to do

is get the pixels from the next scene and move them.

So that is a pre-rendered world.

And the materialistic point of view

says that we live in a pre-rendered world.

The physical world exists.

It's just a matter of us getting-- going around,

moving around in it.

But if you had asked somebody in the 1980s,

can you render something like "World

of Warcraft" or "Fortnite," a fully 3D world,

they would say, no.

We just don't have enough computing power

for all of those pixels.

So how did we get from there to here?

We came up with optimization techniques.

And that's really the key.

We came up with 3D modeling and we came up

with rendering engines and we came up with physics engines.

And what does a rendering engine do?

It takes the point of view of your character

and renders only that which can be observed

from your point of view.

Everything else is hidden from the point of view

of the rendering engine.

Now, this is the game "Doom," which came out in the 1990s

and was one of the first 3D perspective games.

But of course, the techniques have gotten much more

sophisticated since then.

So the rule-- golden rule in video games

is, render only that which is observed.

Which brings up the question, is there

a shared rendered world or not?

Now, if you and I are playing "Fortnite" or "World

of Warcraft" or "Second Life" or any of these games,

we think we're in the same scene.

But the reality is, there is no shared rendered world.

I'm rendering it on my laptop.

You're rendering it on your laptop or your phone.

And so physicists have been asking

the question for a while, is there no shared rendered world?

There was a Nobel Prize winning physicist named Wigner--

Eugene Wigner, who asked this question, saying

if I look at a particle and see the collapse of the probability

wave, and then Wigner's friend looks at it before I tell him

what I observed, will he see the same collapse

of the probability wave that I saw?

And he wasn't able to do the experiment back in the '60s.

Well, they just did it in England, recently,

using a series of, I think, five or six entangled particles.

And they found that Wigner and Wigner's friend

could observe different collapses of the probability


So this is pretty profound.

Two different people might observe a very different

rendering of the world.

It's not unlike what we do in video games.

If you're a level 10 character and I'm

a level five, on the server, we can send you a different thing.

I can put a UFO in the scene if I want for you,

and the other guy won't see it.

So we're sending information to a rendering device which

is rendering in our consciousness-- which brings up

the point of, what is that rendering device?

Is it our brains?

Is it consciousness?

Is it something else?

John Wheeler, who we'll talk about in a minute,

said that everything is information theoretic

in origin.

He's a pretty well-known physicist.

So it seems like quantum indeterminacy could

be an optimization technique.

Same kind of techniques we use when we build video games.

What about quantum entanglement?

Einstein called it spooky action at a distance.

It's been confirmed, now.

Quantum entangled particles have been

able to get pretty far apart from each other.

Theoretically, they could get millions of miles away.

But why would nature have an instance where

these particles are entangled?

Why would it need to?

I would posit-- again, coming at it from a computer science

and video game point of view--

that it's all about optimization and compression.

Now, what does this have to do with "Game of Thrones"?

Well, the reason I can stream "Game of Thrones" to my phone

is because it doesn't send all the pixels.

I mean, at an HD resolution, think of how many pixels would

have to be sent to my phone and how many frames

there are at 30 frames per second.

So what we do is, we take all the particles,

the pixels that have the same values, and we collapse them.

We're going back to Claude Shannon and information theory

and compression.

And whenever you compress things,

you reduce the amount of information

that has to be transmitted.

But you also need to decompress that information, which

means you need error correction codes.

And people-- some certain scientists

are starting to find error correction

codes in the physical universe.

It's all theoretical at this point,

but there are string theorists, for example, who find--

who found error correction codes in the equations.

And people who are simulating physical universes

using a smaller number of entangled particles

are finding that error correction codes are present,

as well, there.

So it's very possible that quantum entanglement really

is yet another compression technique or optimization


So these are clues that we find in the physical world.

Now, another interpretation of this

is that the probability wave never actually collapses.

What happens is that every time there's a decision made,

we branch out into multiple different universes.

So we probably have a bunch of computer scientists here

and engineers.

If you were to branch out and create a copy of something,

how would you do that?

If you look at the physical world

and you look at physical processes--

creating a clone of the sheep Dolly--

you still have to grow the cell.

Creating a clone of a tree--

it's a slow process following some algorithms

that we don't fully understand.

But they're probably fractal in nature.

However, in computer science, we just copy the information

from a server.

And it says, boom, we now have another branch.

If you're branching out your cryptocurrency blockchain

like Bitcoin, for example, you just

take a copy of the blockchain at that point.

If the multi-- many worlds hypothesis is true,

there must be a mechanism that can instantly

create copies of the physical universe, which means that it's

more likely to be an information-based reality

than a physical, material universe, in my opinion.

This also begs the question, if there

are multiple parallel universes, are they

really just probability?

Or do they actually exist?

So when I was making my first video games,

we used to use something called the minimax algorithm.

We would look at the current state of the board,

and we would project forward.

And then we would look at all the probabilities

and we would find the biggest--

the best, most optimal function.

And that's the path that we would choose.

There's a physicist named Tom Campbell who wrote

a book called "My Big TOE"--

my big Theory of Everything.

He believes that that's what nature does,

is it spins off these virtual realities

as parallel universes, but they don't actually exist.

They're just probabilities.

And then whatever is most optimal--

that's the path that we follow.

That's how rendering happens within the physical world.

So these are all interesting.

And there's a lot more aspects of physics which I won't

get into a ton of detail now--

the delayed choice experiment, which

shows that a decision in the future can affect the past.

Do we have pixelated space-- going back to Max Planck.

The smallest physical distance we can measure

is called the Planck length.

Below that, we can't measure it.

Why would there need to be a smallest distance?

If nature was continuous in material,

that may not be needed.

Pixelated time, which is something

we do in simulations and computer games

all the time-- you have a clock speed

and you have a certain generation.

For example, if you're simulating fruit flies,

every year, you look at the population.

But whatever speed of the simulation, the [? set-- ?]

it has to be a multiple of the clock speed.

So if there is a pixelated time, a minimum unit of time--

and many physicists are starting to think there is--

then it's very possible that we're

in some kind of a compute engine that's going forward.

And there's more about speed of light and wormholes

and good stuff like that.

And of course, quantum superposition and qubits,

which I talk a little bit more about in the book, as well.

So I'm going to end the physics section here,

because we're running out of time.

But John Wheeler, who was one of the last

physicists to work with Einstein and many

of the greats of quantum physics--

he came to the conclusion that the physical universe was

really based on information.

And he had a famous phrase.

He called it It from Bit, which is the idea

that anything you see that's physical

is based on information.

And he says in his lifetime, we went through three stages

of physics.

In the first stage, everything was a particle.

It was a material universe.

In the second phase, everything was a field--

a probability field, a quantum field.

And by the third phase, everything

was a series of bits.

And now that we're looking at quantum computers and qubits,

we're starting to see, everything

could be an on and off structure and be built of bits--

which leads us back to this idea that we

could be living in an information-centric, simulated

world around us, and those are just some of the clues.

The third big aspect that I cover in the book

is this idea of mystical traditions and the world's


And it turns out, not just any one religion.

Sometimes I get pushback from people

of a particular religion.

Like, I was on a show in South Carolina and this guy said,

that's not what Jesus Christ said--

that we're living in a simulated computer game,

we're sitting there playing "Mario Brothers" or something.

I said, well, let's look a little more deeply

at what he said.

But particularly, Eastern traditions

seem to-- you don't even have to do an analogy.

Buddha said, know that all phenomena are like reflections

appearing in a very clear mirror,

devoid of inherent existence.

Sounds a lot like pixels.

In the Hindu traditions, that's a picture of the god Vishnu,

who's having a dream.

And we're all part of the dream.

In the Vedas, they talk about the lila,

or the grand play of life--

like a stage play, where we're all characters,

kind of like Shakespeare said-- that all the world's a stage

and we're all characters.

But what kind of a play would it be?

It's an interactive play where each of us

can modify what's happening with some sense of free will.

Well, that sounds a lot like a video game.

They didn't have the terminology video game back when

they wrote the Vedas, but if they did,

that might have been a more appropriate thing for them

to say.

In Buddhism and in Hinduism, in the Eastern traditions,

there's this idea of the Wheel of Samsara,

where we go through a life, and then we

go through another life.

So we play different characters where

we're basically-- the world is basically a role playing game.

And what makes this wheel turn?

In those traditions it's the fact

that we still have unaccomplished

tasks ahead of us.

I'll talk about karma in a minute,

but karma is what makes the wheel turn in these traditions.

In the Tibetan traditions, they have this idea of dream yoga.

It's one of the six yogas of Naropa,

which is a set of mystical practices

that have been preserved for about 1,000 years.

And in dream yoga, you learn to wake

up within your dreams-- what we would

call lucid dreaming today.

And the idea is, if you, inside a dream,

can realize that what you're seeing around

you is an illusion, it's a dream,

then you can also wake up in physical reality

and realize that we are, in fact, in a dream world

and in an illusion.

So you bring that consciousness.

So this is one of the yogas that they've

taught for a period of time.

And now we've started to study it.

And lucid dreaming has been studied in the laboratories,

as well.

So we know it exists, so-- which brings

us back to the age old question that Descartes raised

in, I think, the 1500s when he said,

what if there's an evil demon that's tricking me

and everything I see around me is just signals into my brain?

I can't be sure.

The only thing I can be sure of is that I am thinking,

therefore I am.

So this idea that we may actually be in a dream world

with signals being sent into our brain has a long history.

Particularly within the Eastern traditions,

we basically download consciousness

at birth from somewhere into a physical body.

And at death, the information is uploaded or beamed back up,

like in a cloud server.

Now, what is it that gets downloaded and uploaded?

Now we're back to the transhumanist movement

and folks like Ray Kurzweil here at Google

who want to be able to download to a silicon device.

Well, it turns out, in the Eastern traditions,

they've been talking about uploading and downloading

of consciousness for a while.

One of the differences between the Hindu

and the Buddhist traditions is in Hinduism,

there's an indestructible soul.

But in the Buddhist traditions, what gets

reincarnated is really a bag of karma.

Well, what is that?

A bag of information.

It's a set of things that you have done in this life

and that you have to do in the future.

So it's really just information being sent back and forth

within-- in the East traditions.

Well, I started to think about this from the point of view

of a video game designer.

And it turns out, you can define a very nice questing

system that basically defines how karma is supposed

to work within the Eastern traditions-- which brings up

the idea, is Buddha's endless wheel an algorithm, actually?

And is there actually a scientific or technological

basis for what these religions have been telling us

all along, where we have a series of quests

that we have to achieve?

And you can read more about that in the book.

Even in the Western religious traditions,

there's this idea of the recording angels.

And in the Islamic traditions, in the Quran,

they give them names.

And they say one angel write down every good deed you did,

and one angel writes down every bad deed you did.

Now, we're a bunch of engineers here.

If you had to implement that, would you really

have 14 billion conscious entities sitting there

writing down things in a book?


You would probably have AI or algorithms

that are recording things.

But in the Quran and in the Western traditions,

they say you have to review what you did.

So they didn't mean it's literally a book

that somebody is writing this stuff down.

But they say that after you die, you have to examine your deeds

and look at the impact of those deeds.

Well, this is interesting-- if you're

going to want to talk about China,

you want to talk to somebody who's been to China.

So if we're going to talk about what happens after death,

you want to talk to people that have actually been dead.

So I have a good friend named Dannion Brinkley

who wrote a book called "Saved by the Light."

He was struck by lightning and had

a 20-minute near-death experience.

Turns out, there's thousands of these cases out there.

And almost all of them bring up this idea

of a panoramic life review--

he said, where there's a recording of everything

you did in your life.

And you have to relive that recording.

But you have to live it from the other person's point of view.

And Dannion was in the military, and he

used to literally kill people as a sniper.

He had to experience what it was like to get the bullet.

So recently, before I wrote the book,

I was involved in a startup that did recordings of games

like "League of Legends."

Some of you may have played these games.

Now, this is a 3D game on a 2D landscape.

But we would record it in 3D.

And then you would put on a virtual reality headset.

And we could put the virtual cameras anywhere we wanted to.

So literally, you could play back the character you killed

or that you shot in CS: GO.

And you could see it from their point of view.

So I'm not saying that what the Western religious traditions

told us is necessarily true.

I'm saying if they're true, how would it be implemented?

It would be implemented by doing a 3D recording of everything

that has happened to you in your life.

So that reminds me a lot of the simulation hypothesis.

Kids today are recording their games

and sending them on Twitch all over the place.

So that may be what's going on at a more cosmic scale.

Now, I won't get into some of these, since our--

we've talked about NDEs.

But here at the Stanford Research Institute

in the '70s, when they were inventing the ARPANET,

they were also doing research on remote viewing

where they had people trying to figure out what

was in a remote destination.

And they found statistically significant results.

Not many people know that these were going on

in rooms next to each other.

They're working on the internet and they're

investigating remote viewing.

If it exists, how could it work?

It's the same way we put a virtual camera anywhere

inside the 3D world and we can see what's happening.

It makes sense, if it's a simulated world.

It doesn't make any sense if we live

in a material world, at all.

And so there's a lot of these topics.

I'll actually be giving a talk at East West

here in Mountain View, more about the unexplained

phenomenon side of it.

But we want to transition to questions here soon.

But one of the big questions that I get

is, can I hack the simulation--

if we're living in a simulation.

Now, you may remember the famous scene in "The Matrix"

where this young guy was bending the spoon.

And his advice to Neo was, the thing you have to remember

is, there is no spoon.

Within a simulation, it's all information

that's being rendered.

So to hack it, you may have to figure out

how to tie into that.

Now, we're very left-brained.

There was also research done on this at the Stanford Research

Institute, on spoon bending, which some people think

doesn't exist.

Well, this is a picture from the Marriott

here in Santa Clara on Friday night,

where a group of 20 people got together, took spoons

from the Marriott, and bent them all,

if you zoom into that picture.

Now, one of the guys who did research

on this, Jack [? Howard ?] from Stanford Research Institute,

said he went to Los Alamos and tried this,

and none of the physicists could do it, but all of their wives



Isn't that interesting?

So maybe hacking the simulation is not about a left brain

quantitative approach, but it's about letting go

and realizing something about the underlying

nature of reality.

So anyhow, I want to break for questions soon.

But we get the big questions often.

Why would somebody want to do a simulation?

The answer is, why do you play video games?

For entertainment, to have experiences

that you might not be able to have outside the simulation.

I can't ride a dragon and kill orcs in real life.

But I could do it in a video game.

So there may be something about the experiences

in the video game that we're having.

Another big question is, what's outside the simulation?

Elon Musk asked this recently, as well.

He said that--

I think Lex Fridman, researcher at MIT, asked him,

what would you ask an AGI if we had Artificial General


He said, I would ask them what's outside the simulation.

Is it aliens?

Future humans?

So Bostrom's theory was that we live inside an ancestor

simulation, so they're future versions of us.

And this is more along the lines of what

Philip K. Dick believed.

Could they be time travelers?

If you're more of a religious bent,

you might think it's God and angels.

Some people think it's pure consciousness,

going back to Max Planck and some of the ideas there.

We don't know the answer.

But what does this mean for me as a person?

You might say, it doesn't mean anything to me.

Well, if you're inside "Grand Theft Auto,"

maybe your goal is to steal automobiles.

So my question for you is, if you

were a character in a video game, what attributes--

strength, intelligence, dexterity,

all those old Dungeons and Dragons

attributes-- have you brought into the game?

What type of character are you?

And what is your quest?

What are the challenges and things

that you want to achieve in this life?

So adopting the idea of a video game

is a pretty powerful metaphor.

And to take the advice of another MIT physicist,

Max Tegmark--

he said, make it an interesting simulation,

because you don't want the simulators to shut you down.


I like to use the analogy--

I like to use the analogy of Indiana Jones films, where

if at the beginning he was just given the treasure map

and it just said, here's the treasure.

Go get it-- that wouldn't make for a very interesting movie.

It wouldn't make for a very interesting video game, either.

You have to have a clue.

And you follow the clue to the next clue.

And you have to have challenges.

In fact, in the sequels to "The Matrix," if you remember,

they said that the first version of the Matrix

was an ideal world.

But humans wouldn't accept that as a real world

because there was no strife.

There was no boredom.

There weren't any challenges.

And people always ask me, well, if I

was going to make a video game, I

would make myself a trillionaire and I would do this and that.

Well, that may not be the nature of the game

and that may not be the types of quests or achievements

that you're here to achieve.

So that's the answer to that big question.

So I think we have a few minutes for questions.

In terms of where to get the book,

I like to say, support local bookstores.

So Books Inc here in Mountain View, and East West.

In New York, Strand Bookstore, Barnes and Noble.

In Boston, the MIT coop, Harvard coop.

So go to your local bookstore.

And if you can't find it, then go to Amazon.

So with that, I'd like to open-- and my website


And my email is there if you want

to ask me questions afterwards.


AUDIENCE: So as a question--

first of all, a wonderful and fascinating

philosophical conversation.

Happy for, basically, being able to ask you this.

There's a certain field of machine learning research

called model based reinforcement learning where you'll build up

a simulation of your environment and then train inside

of that simulation.

There is a value to having this simulation, which

is that you can generate arbitrary amounts of data

and so end up with an algorithm that's much more finely

tuned and capable of decision making

than without that simulation.

There's also this want to do counterfactual inference

and ask, oh, well, if I hadn't experienced this reality, what

would have happened?

And in asking what would have happened,

you can do a kind of credit assignment

which says, oh, well, if I had taken some other path,

this is what the outcome would have been.

So that might be a motivation for creating simulations.

So I don't know if you engage with that at all in the book

or what your thoughts are on this sort of access of machine

learning research.

RIZWAN VIRK: Not so much the machine learning research,

but this idea that you may want to look

at alternate versions of what might have happened

and find a way to score those.

I think that may be a fundamental part

of this view of parallel realities

and what they actually are.

It gets back to this question of,

why are we doing a simulation?

If I'm simulating fruit flies, it's

to see how the population might evolve over time.

If I'm simulating "Sim City" or "Sid Meier's Civilization,"

what is it that I'm trying to figure out?

Some people think that we're trying to figure out

if we're going to destroy the planet

or if we're going to destroy ourselves in this simulation.

I don't think there's necessarily just one purpose.

And there's not just one way of scoring

what the different alternatives might be, but really,

that each of us has our own versions

of what we're here to do.

And each of us is doing something

similar to what you talked about there with the machine

learning, which is that each of us

is projecting into the future, figuring out what might happen,

and then coming back to the present-- which gets back

to this idea in quantum physics of the delayed choice

experiment, where some observation of the future

is actually affecting the past.

So it's a very high level answer to what you're asking there,

but I think that general approach may be what's

at work in the simulation.

AUDIENCE: Before we jump to another live question,

there's a question from the live audiences.

This person asks if there's any possibility

to wake up from the simulation like Neo did,

and how can he achieve that?


RIZWAN VIRK: That's a great question.

And I would submit that most religions today

happened because somebody woke up from the simulation.

They peeked outside the simulation.

They saw what was out there.

And they came back and tried to describe it.

And then somebody built a whole religion around it.

But it's kind of like the three blind men with the elephant.

They're all feeling the elephant,

but they're feeling different parts of the elephant.

One thinks it's like a snake because they have the trunk.

One thinks it's like a tree because they're feeling

the legs of the elephant.

One thinks it's like a house.

So I think there are ways to peek outside the simulation,

but I think they may have to do more with our consciousness

and realizing that there may be more going on than what

we're seeing around us.

And so that's what yogis and these guys

have dedicated thousands of years of techniques to--

basically, peeking outside the simulation.

Now, the other question might be,

can we do it more from a scientific point of view?

And I think a related question is,

if the simulation hypothesis isn't falsifiable,

then why should we take it seriously?

But I would say that just because something can't

be proven wrong doesn't mean that you can't find evidence

for it.

200 years ago, the idea of meteorites was unfalsifiable.

Scientists said, that's ridiculous.

There's no way that that's happening.

They just didn't believe it.

There was a belief system that said,

these things cannot be here, therefore, they don't exist--

contrary to some evidence that people had seen

things falling from the sky.

They said, ah, you imagined the whole thing.

But eventually, they did find some evidence for meteorites.

And today, we actually accept that meteorites

do exist and things do fall from the sky.

But we needed a different model of how

the universe worked before we were able to get to that point.

And so I think you can find evidence.

And in the book, I go into some of the experiments

that people have done to try to figure out if we have

a pixelated reality, et cetera.

And so there may be a more scientific way of doing it.

But I would say, explore consciousness is the way

to wake up from the game.

AUDIENCE: So I really enjoyed the parallels

you drew between aspects of a reality and video game

software, like the pixelization of the world with Planck's

constant and how these quantum phenomena might

be forms of compression.

So what I'm wondering is, we all know that software has bugs

and that they're unavoidable.

So what is the analogy-- what are bugs in the simulation?

What do they look like?

Can we detect them?

RIZWAN VIRK: Great question.

So if you remember, in the movie "The Matrix,"

they coined the phrase, which is used pretty often

now, "a glitch in the Matrix."

And if you remember, it was the cat that was going by the door.

And then he looked again, and it was the same scene replayed.

It was a glitch in the software.

So the question is, are there glitches in the physical Matrix

around us?

Now, I mentioned Philip K. Dick.

He wrote a novel called "The Adjustment Team"--

a short story which became "The Adjustment Bureau,"

which is a big Blockbuster movie with Matt Damon and Emily


But he believed that it was experiences of deja vu

just like the glitches in the Matrix in the movie.

And he-- at one point, he said, I

used to have a light switch here, in my bathroom.

Now I have this chain.

What the heck changed?

He thought that somebody had played with the simulation

and had actually changed little things in the physical realm.

So he believed in big changes and little things.

And so a lot of the unexplained phenomenon that I talked

about-- but I didn't really get into detail today--

that a lot of modern science dismisses

could, in fact, be glitches in the Matrix,

particularly around things like feelings of deja vu

and precognitive dreaming.

There's a lot of literature on this stuff

that, because our belief system doesn't allow it,

most scientists won't even look at it.

If you've ever heard of a scientist who

won't look at data, that happens in this realm,

but not in other realms.

And so I think that-- that's why I included

the whole area of mysticism and religions in the book,

because I believe there's a lot of glitches in the Matrix,

but we have been conditioned for a long time

to not look at those as anything real.

AUDIENCE: This one says, the general simulation hypothesis

is inconsequential and unfalsifiable,

because if it were somehow proven true,

it would make no difference within observable reality,

and one can always claim that reality is a simulation.

Is your preferred version of the simulation hypothesis

either consequential or falsifiable?

RIZWAN VIRK: So getting back to what I just

said a few moments ago, just because you can't prove

it's not true doesn't mean that you can't find evidence

that it is true.

And I was just down at a university

down in Southern California where

we're running some experiments to try to show evidence

that, in fact, consciousness is needed

to collapse the probability wave, not just a device.

Because the device could be part of the simulation, as well.

So if-- and depending on what we find,

if in fact you need a conscious person as opposed to a device,

that brings up--

back to my preferred version of the simulation hypothesis,

which is that--

the RPG version, that we are conscious entities

who are playing characters.

Now, is it consequential?

I'll get back to the-- to my last point in this talk.

If you were playing a particular game

like "Eve Online," your goal may be

to build spaceships and build an empire--


Knowing that you're in a simulation

might alter your behavior, because you'll

have a different set of quests and achievements.

That's why I like the video game analogy more than just

a straight simulated environment itself.

AUDIENCE: We want to thank you so much for being here.

RIZWAN VIRK: Thanks, everybody.


The Description of Rizwan Virk: "The Simulation Hypothesis" | Talks at Google