Neo: Right now we’re inside a computer program?
Morpheus: Is it really so hard to believe? Your clothes are different. The plugs in your arms and head are gone. Your hair is changed. Your appearance now is what we call residual self image. It is the mental projection of your digital self.
Neo: This…this isn’t real?
Morpheus: What is real. How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo. This is the world as it exists today…. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. We have only bits and pieces of information but what we know for certain is that at some point in the early twenty-first century all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.
Neo: AI? You mean artificial intelligence?
Morpheus: A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines. We don’t know who struck first, us or them. But we know that it was us that scorched the sky. At the time they were dependent on solar power and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate it seems is not without a sense of irony. The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTU’s of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion the machines have found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields, endless fields, where human beings are no longer born, we are grown. For the longest time I wouldn’t believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes. Watch them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.
– The Matrix
The Matrix, as defined by the films, is a highly complex, all-encompassing computer simulation. This simulation so perfectly mimics the real world that few can tell the difference. Humans live within this world, while their bodies rest in pods, connected to tubes bringing food and carrying away waste. Their body heat and electricity are used to power the simulation. Their bodies are connected into the Matrix via a brain-computer interface (BCI). This overrides the body’s natural senses, and replaces them with those of the simulation. They see, hear, feel and taste as if it were real. This is the nightmare scenario of the dystopic science-fiction movie. But could this scenario become a reality? Technologies currently in development could be used to produce a prototype Matrix-like system, while current technologies are incrementally conditioning the public to accept this system.
The term “Matrix” is far too specific to describe the potential system of the future. The name possesses negative connotations, and will probably not be used. The more general term “neural-interactive simulation,” used only once in the film, may suffice, although it is not an established term. (Web searching it only results in quotes from the film.) However, the elites have often used film and TV to subtly prepare the population for their agenda. When “The Matrix” was released in 1999, living inside a computer simulation was a new and groundbreaking idea. It was unbelievable and outlandish. But now, the shock has warn off. This film may have intended to introduce the population to this concept. Regardless, the technologies needed to realize a Matrix-like system, the neural-interactive simulation (NIS), are currently in development. In order to realize a NIS, two major technologies are needed, a high definition, real life simulation, and an interface that connects this simulation to the human brain. The simulation would need to produce a high definition, three-dimensional image of the virtual world, rendered in realtime to millions of users at once. The main challenges with a NIS is that it must be all-encompassing. The simulation would have to cater to all the five senses. Smell, taste, and texture for all objects would have to be incorporated into the simulation. How is virtual food programmed to taste like it’s real world counterpart? In the simulation, people would need the ability to interact naturally to the virtual world, with their hands and feet, as opposed to using a mouse and keyboard.
The simulation itself is not far fetched. Graphics on the XBOX 360 and the PS3 are so life-like that they are approaching reality, as shown by the sample screenshots below.
In addition, Microsoft has just announced Project Natal for the XBOX 360. This hand’s free controller positions cameras on the user’s body, allowing them to control their character on screen naturally, by mimicking the motions the character should make. As seen in the below promotional video, you can even use this system to interact with others.
People are already interacting with each other in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft (WOW) and other massively multiplayer online games, where they fight aliens, robots, zombies, or each other. Second Life provides a more civil way for people to interact, mimicking the real world in an online game where people live, work, shop, play in a virtual world. (The impact of virtual worlds, such as Second Life, will be detailed in upcoming articles.) Computer generated movie effects, and CG movies are becoming extremely lifelike. It is only a matter of time until virtual worlds such as Second Life have graphics as realistic as the PS3 or XBOX 360.
Also required for a Matrix (NIS) system is an interface between the computer and the user’s brain. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are already in use. They have been used in experiments with the disabled to give sight to the blind, and speech to the dumb. Most of the BCIs in use or development are output oriented; they produce action by interpreting the user’s brain waves. It can be said that they read the user’s mind. There are three types of BCIs: invasive, semi-invasive, and non-invasive. For an invasive BCI, electrodes are implanted directly into the brain, while the semi-invasive requires electrodes under the skull, but not into the brain. A non-invasive BCI utilizes a headset which is able to read the brain waves through the skull. BCIs are being used to give communication abilities to those who are “locked in” and cannot speak. In one experiment, a patient was able to speak via a computer voice simulator. Others are using the technology to give the disabled the ability to use a computer, and even send messages via the social networking site Twitter. But all of the above mentioned applications involve reading the user’s brain waves, and interpreting them to perform some action. However, a NIS requires a brain-computer interface that can also input signals into the brain. Work has also been done in this area, as “input” BCIs have been used to partially restore sight to some blind patients.
Treatment for the disabled is just the beginning. Emotiv Systems, an Australian company with San Fransisco offices, has developed the EPOC, a BCI headset for video gamers. This first generation technology has 14 brain wave sensors, which rest on the head, plus a gyroscope to generate positional information. This device allows the user to control game play with their brain. According to developers, the eventual goal of this device is to link it with virtual worlds, such as Second Life. This would give the user a much more natural experience in navigating these worlds, and interacting with others within them. Tan Le, President and co-founder of Emotiv, foresees the EPOC to integrate the user more throughly into Second Life. “Right now, when you want your [Second Life] avatar to grin, you type it, which is completely unnatural. If we have it our way, EPOC will make avatars truly come to life,” Le said. Combining brain-computer interface technology, such as the EPOC, with video games and virtual worlds, such as Second Life, would create a crude prototype Matrix. And Emotiv is not along in it’s quest to merge Second Life with brain-computer interfaces. Japanese researchers have allowed a paralyzed man to walk, in Second Life, with a BCI. In the near future, a person would be able to completely control their on-screen character through brain waves alone. When this control is accomplished, as is the goal of Emotiv Systems, people will be able to interact with and within the virtual world as if it were real. Combining headphones, a microphone, and virtual reality glasses into the next generation EPOC would make it even more life-like. Le stated that “In the long run, the user’s interactions with machines will more closely mimic our interactions with other humans. Our technology will ultimately bring communities of people closer together to richly share their experiences.” People could meet, shake hands, and hug naturally in the artificial world, no mouse, no keyboard required. According to some experts, the Matrix scenario may be approaching. Rick Hall, production director of the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, likened the EPOC to the Matrix, stating
If we can interpret basic control thoughts now, it isn’t far off where we’ll be able to interpret more complex thoughts, even potentially things you’re not consciously thinking of. If we can now do it in a non-invasive fashion, it probably won’t be long before we can read these things from across the room.
However, a combination of the EPOC with Second Life would only partially fulfill the Matrix scenario, as the EPOC lacks two-way communication with the brain. With a two way system, the user will be able to feel a virtual breeze, smell virtual flowers, and taste virtual food. If the second generation EPOC allows users to fully control their Second Life with their thoughts alone, perhaps the third will allow for two way communication. This not out of the question.
Regardless to how it comes, the population is being prepared slowly for the Matrix system. The requirements for this system, having begin described in detail, the incremental march into this system will now be revealed. It began with the advent of television. Fantasy worlds are nothing new, but with books and radio, people had to use their brain to visualize the world. With TV, the world was simply presented to them; the brain does nothing. (Also, The refresh rate of TV and computers has been shown to have a mesmerizing effect.) Interaction with the virtual world began with early video games and computers. Realize that when you use a computer, whether for work or for play, you are interacting with a virtual world that does not exist outside of cyberspace. Massively multiplayer online games allow many to play in the virtual world. Social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace allow people to build online networks of friends and associates, even if they have never meet in the “real world.” Second Life combines the massively multiplayer aspect with the social networking, allowing people to play, shop, live, and work in a virtual world. Corporations are even using Second Life for virtual meetings, conferences and training. More and more, we are being drawn to the virtual world. We are even interacting more in the virtual world than in the natural. This is not natural, but most do not care. The technology makes them trendy and popular, and that is all that matters to them.
The virtual world is becoming better. Computer generated movies are now looking much more lifelike (while the cartoon characters within are still looking cartoonish). The PS3 and XBOX 360 are able to render near-realistic graphics. The Emotiv EPOC, and the XBOX 360 “Project Natal” are preparing us to enter the virtual world, hands free, just like in the real world. We are slowly becoming accustom to the virtual world. We are spending more, and more, and more time in it. The Matrix technology is being build incrementally around us, and we accept each incremental step as technological progress.
Many are learning to love the coming Matrix-like virtual world. A friend once told me of his brother, who spends most of his time on Second Life, running an antique store in this virtual world. He spends so much time online that he has trouble interacting in the real world. When his family visited him, he could barely talk, and was exhausted easily. Also, I once had a transhumanist housemate who embraced these technologies. Aaron believed that he would eventually live inside a computer, with his body placed on a rack (similar to the pods in the film). He saw nothing wrong with it, and looked forward to it. He believed that this technology could give him eternal life, having rejected Jesus Christ’s free offer of guaranteed eternal life. (He had grown up in a Christian home.)
This shows that people will not be forced into the Matrix, they will enter willingly. They will embrace it, and love it. However, it may take a few decades for it to fully arrive. When it arrives, it may look like a nice, happy, fantasy world, but it is not. It is all about control. It may seem like the next step in human evolution, as boasted by the transhumanists. However, the Matrix is about control, human control, population control.
I’d like to share a revelation I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.
– Agent Smith, The Matrix