The Matrix Could be Our Future and Earth’s Salvation from Climate Change
The website for Matrix Resurrections was revealed this week, encouraging fans to choose either the red or blue pill as they delve into the film’s universe. But while the film’s premise is science fiction — Machines going to war with humans for control of the planet, and subsequently locking humanity in virtual reality — the technology it describes may prove to be humanity’s destiny, and perhaps one of our solutions to climate change. With the planet warning at an alarm rate, a virtual reality like the matrix may be one way to ease our burden on the environment and give it time to heal.
True, this is different reality than the film and a different plan altogether. In the world of The Matrix, humanity scarred planet Earth in an effort to cut “The Machines” off from solar energy, their main source of power. However, the plan backfired and the machines won the war, later resorting to a fusion energy (which powers the sun) and plugged-in humans for their body heat and brain power. While the humans were locked into the grid of The Matrix, their brains were kept busy in a world resembling the late 1990’s. Some fans criticized the idea as unrealistic, pointing out that using humans for power would be extremely inefficient, but others pointed out that the machines might be using the human brains as a sort of supercomputing network.
Humans haven’t created super intelligent robots yet, although research into machine learning, robotics, and biomechanics has progressed at a speedy rate. We haven’t mastered brain computer interfaces either, but the flip-phones of the original Matrix movie have since been replaced with handheld computers more powerful than expensive desktops from back in that era, and research into mind-computer interfaces is underway. In the meantime, we have free encyclopedia, language learning software, games, and cat videos at our fingertips 24 hours a day.
Despite our technological progress, hope for the environment is looking grim and a dystopian cyberpunk future of is seeming more and more inevitable. The world’s climate scientists have been warning us for decades about rising temperatures, and the goal set by the Paris Climate agreement of limiting warning to 2 degrees may be slipping away, with the point of no return coming up in 2035. Even if we meet the goal, this “small” warning of 2 degrees may join other damage to the environment to have dramatic effects: coastal flooding, worsening hurricanes, mass extinctions, and pandemics. Some of this is already undeniable, including a decline in animal populations of almost 70% since the 1950's.
A technology like The Matrix may be one possible solution, even if it is far from ideal. In such a scenario, most humans would live in a virtual reality powered by sustainable energy, while a small remnant of people stays in the real world to perform maintenance, do research, and clean things up. Work in such a world would involve writing, art, coding, architecture, and design. There would also be a subset of people needed for education and child-rearing, and perhaps shopkeepers and bartenders who run virtual bars, shops, and restaurants. There would be benefits to this in terms of automation, free time, and artistic expression, including the ability to control our own appearance. But of course there would be costs as well, including loss of interaction with real plants and animals (although perhaps we might jack our pets into The Matrix as well), a disconnect from mother nature, and inequalities in terms of hardware, bandwidth, connection quality, and safety for various populations around the globe. Just as the poor live in worse neighborhoods today, poor folk in The Matrix might live in a low-def reality.
Perhaps this seems too bleak, or like a solution most people would never accept. However, consider how much time folks already spend online, whether on phones, tablets, or computers. During the pandemic, many already worked from home. Certainly, such a change would represent a huge shift for our culture and economy, but such a shift has been underway for decades.
Of course, there would still be concerns with such a world. In the movie Matrix, machines maintain the rules and enforce the basic rules of the artificial reality. In our world, we don’t have such machines yet, and even if we did we might not trust them with our reality. Further, there would be concerns about misinformation and the effects of things like hacking, bugs, and social media induced fatigue and depression. But will we have a choice? If our option is mass extinction and war on the one hand, or a few centuries in virtual reality on the other, we may choose the virtual realm, while some actual machines (and some real world humans) create clean power, pull carbon from the air, and filter the oceans.
This is not meant to be doom and gloom, nor is it meant to describe some Utopian society. It’s just one possible future inspired by the films, but one that’s looking more likely as time goes on.