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Elon Musk's maddest predictions: The craziest things he said at Code 2016


Elon Musk

Elon Must says crazy things

Tesla, Space X, Paypal, and Solar City founder Elon Musk is known for making predictions about the future of technology. And his latest interview at Recode's Code conference proved to be another trove of slightly insane-sounding pontifications.

Musk offered his opinions on everything from AI to how the human race might govern itself on Mars. If you feel like sitting through the entire interview, the video is below. Otherwise, read on for a full break down of the best, slightly worrying, moments from Musk's Code interview.

1) We're almost definitely living in the Matrix

One of the more unsettling statements Musk offered during his Code interview was his contention that we are unwittingly part of some grand simulation.

Speaking during the show, he said: “The strongest argument for probably being in a simulation is the following: 40 years ago, we had pong, two rectangles and a dot. That is 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, augmented reality, if you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality."

Related: 9 predictions from a professional tech futurist

It certainly sounds a bit out there to say the least, but Musk might actually be on to something with this one. For one thing, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom agrees with him. Bostrom's theory that our entire cosmos could quite easily be a simulation was perhaps explained best by neuroscientist Sam Harris.

As Harris puts it: "If we survive the next few centuries without annihilating ourselves, it is just a matter of time before we build computers capable of running virtual worlds populated by virtual people.

"...It seems tempting to conclude that simulated people will eventually outnumber all the real people who have ever lived. Statistically, therefore, it is more likely that we are simulated ancestors, living in a simulated world, rather than real ancestors of the real, supercomputing people of the future."

So basically, all you have to do is accept the idea that one day we'll advance to a stage where we can run realistic simulations, and the idea that these simulations will be more numerous than the real world, in order to agree with Musk and his fellow 'simulationists'. Scary stuff...

2) How we would govern Mars... the planet

Musk has made no secret of his ambitions to send humans to the red planet via his Space X programme. The company is already planning to launch its first unmanned mission to Mars within two years and Musk has previously revealed he is expecting to launch a manned rocket by 2024. The mission would see the rocket arriving on Mars a year later.

So sure is he that his vision will become reality, that he took time during his Code interview to speculate on how best to govern these Martian colonies.

"Most likely the form of government on Mars would be a direct democracy, not representative," he said.

"So it would be people voting directly on issues. And I think that's probably better, because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy."

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Elon MuskThis man wants to blast you into space

Essentially, Musk is suggesting a solution to earthly legislative problems by starting over from scratch. In space.

Musk also made clear his view that laws should be harder to create on the red planet: "I think I would recommend some adjustment for the inertia of laws would be wise. It should probably be easier to remove a law than create one.

"I think that's probably good, because laws have infinite life unless they're taken away."

3) Humans will either become cyborgs or house cats

It wouldn't be an Elon Musk appearance without some grim prophecies concerning artificial intelligence. The Space X founder has been vocal on the subject of AI in the past, previously stating that he believes it to be "the most serious threat to the survival of the human race".

And Code provided Musk with the perfect platform from which to issue similarly ominous-sounding proclamations about the future of artificial intelligence. This time he urged the need for us all to essentially become cyborgs in order to stave off enslavement by AI overlords.

"Under any rate of advancement in AI we will be left behind by a lot. The benign situation with ultra-intelligent AI is that we would be so far below in intelligence we’d be like a pet, or a house cat. I don’t love the idea of being a house cat.”

Related: Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri

During his time on-stage, Musk voiced his support for a 'neural lace' – an electronic brain enhancement that would allow us access to online information and artificial intelligence.

"“The solution that seems maybe the best one is to have an AI layer – a third digital layer that could work symbiotically [with your brain].”

So who will be fitting us all with these nightmarish devices? Well, Musk thinks he's up to the task, if it comes down to it.

“Somebody’s gotta do it, I’m not saying I will. If somebody doesn’t do it then I think I should probably do it.”

No, you're alright mate.

Elon Musk

4) Self-driving cars are only two years away

At this point, it's clear that no-one is quite sure when autonomous cars will arrive in consumer form. Most prominent figures in the industry are betting on a 2020 arrival at the very earliest, and even then most agree the first driverless vehicles will be part of for-hire services.

Of course, Mr Musk isn't having any of it. During his interview he maintained that most of the issues surrounding autonomous cars have now been solved and that we could be seeing them on the road by 2017.

Related: Apple Car – Everything you need to know

“I consider autonomous driving to be a basically solved problem,” the Tesla CEO said.

“We’re less than two years away from complete autonomy. Regulators however will take at least another year – they’ll want to see billions of miles of data."

Hey, if we're going to trust this man to send us to Mars, operate on our brains, and awake us from our simulated reality like some smug billionaire version of Morpheus, surely we can trust him on when autonomous cars will arrive...


June 3, 2016, 11:36 am

All I can say is they must be really bad at video games...............

Aqueous Digital

June 3, 2016, 11:43 am

Definitely with him on the whole AI threat. Skynet anyone??


June 3, 2016, 5:09 pm

totally agree with Musk....Where is the 'delete button' for my noisy neighbour?

Geo T

June 3, 2016, 9:09 pm

Has Musk's wealth driven him insane? If nature doesn't really exist, who built the first computer and where did they get their vision of what a planet should look like? Also, why is there so much illness and suffering? A simulated world would tend toward utopia. Musk also has to negate the natural sciences, starting with evolutionary biology.

Simon Dowsett

June 4, 2016, 6:46 pm

No, a simulated world would simulate everything. How many attempts and simulations does utopia require? Moreover, YOU as an entity in the simulation have no basis of comparison. As silly as Musk's statement may be, you don't understand it.

Geo T

June 4, 2016, 8:16 pm

No, I don't understand it because it's absurd and purely hypothetical. How can solid objects and one's sense of self not be real? Who built the computer and where are they? It's the kind of thing a druggie would come up with in a vision, then wake up the next morning and feel ridiculous. That others are nodding along with it baffles me.

The resurgence of Flat-Earthism among articulate people is a similar phenomenon I don't get. Insanity is all around us!


June 5, 2016, 10:12 am

It's not quite that insane.

Firstly, all of your experience and interaction with the outside world comes through your senses, if those inputs are artificially generated, how could you tell?

Then, suppose the brain that is doing the processing of those artificial inputs is itself an artificial construct? Would it be able to know? Quite possibly, from the point of view of the artificial brain with the artificial inputs, all of the world would be just as we see it now.

When it comes to whether this has happened or not, he's saying there are or will be original computer builders, but in his scenario, they have millions of indistinguishable virtual worlds in the future that look like ours now. In the same way that millions of computers run Call of Duty today.

That means if you apparently live in a version of the past, either you do live in the past, or you live in a virtual past, you can't tell the difference.

However, there is a 1 in a million chance that you are the original versus the virtual version. So it's overwhelmingly likely you are living in the virtual version.

Geo T

June 5, 2016, 8:09 pm

You may know of Maslow's hammer: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Musk is doing the same thing with computers and a tech-obsessed mindset where nature is trivialized, even though computers are made from natural elements. I used to think Musk was a conservationist but now I fear he wants to turn half the planet into a wind/solar factory to power his cars, e.g. "That's not real scenery being destroyed; some guy just programmed it. We can delete it later if it gets too ugly." Sure.

I go with Occam's Razor; the simplest, most obvious explanation is usually correct. The characters in video games have no sense of self or physical mass. They are just zeros and ones. There are limits to any technology. You'd have to prove that billions of people are mistaken in their self-identity and nothing around them is physical. You'd also have to prove the existence of whatever machine created the whole illusion. Saying that we can never see that machine because we're "inside it" fails the scientific test of falsifiability.

You might as well argue that the Earth is the size of a pea because atoms "could be" much smaller than we think they are. It's a conspiracy theory that piles a bunch of what-ifs on top of each other and acts like they're bedrock facts. There is no reasoning with such anti-logic.


June 6, 2016, 8:25 am

Hmm. I think I owe you an apology, I'd thought you were not understanding his point rather than not understanding why somebody would indulge in pointless sophistry.

I think his is a novel spin on the "we exist in the mind of a sleeping god" idea. But you're right. To try and act as it this were definitely true or to base real decisions on it is madness.

Geo T

June 6, 2016, 8:29 am

Glad you see why! Few would put it to the test by cutting off a finger or an arm and waiting for a programmer vs. a doctor! But Musk still worries me, if he even believes a fraction of it.

Durknit Pentex

June 7, 2016, 6:31 am

I am in complete agreement. Musk, Hawking, Kurzweil et al. have been reading their own hype for far too long.

While I can't *totally* discount the possibility of our being in someone's simulation—much as I can't *totally* discount the existence of leprechaun overlords hiding amongst the mushrooms—I'd say the odds are probably at 10 to the 50th power to one (or more).

Notice I didn't say the odds were zero.


June 7, 2016, 9:27 am

You sarcastically replied "Sure" to conjecture you made up, then immediately claim you use the Occam's Razor approach. Musk is a reasonable man, but outlandish. In most respects, since you probably couldn't tell if we're in a simulation, this idea has no bearing on how one should act. Musk will generally act as if this is the only reality because that's the logical thing to do even when he believes it's likely to be so. What else could be done? We're already probing at quantum physics (an what we see there is sometimes very discreet in nature).

We're not trying to make the Earth the size of a pea. We're not trying to make "leprechaun overlords hiding amongst the mushrooms" nor sleeping gods. There is a lot of desire and research to create intelligent computers. We're gone from Pong to Grand Theft Auto V in forty years. Where could computers and AI be in forty _thousand_ years? Is progress a reasonable assumption? Assuming we (the human species) are alive, it's not unreasonable to think an advanced AI might be created.

In fact, the idea probably only has meaning when considering what an advanced AI might do. The AI would likely create potential and simulated realities. An advanced AI might also reasonably assume that we would run it in a simulated reality first, probe for potential tells, and act differently to deceive us of its intentions if it determined itself to be in one. Musk has demonstrated that he fears the destructive potential of AI. The actions he's taken are very reasonable: encouraging steps to contain it before it is created (if it is).

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