Why the Matrix Will Not Happen

Posted in 3D, all posts, future, internet by coleman yee on February 24, 2007

(This is a continuation from “the Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It?”,  and part 2).

A lot of people think that the Matrix is inevitable. I take a contrarian view.

But first – what do I mean by “the Matrix”? It’s just a scenario where our brains connect to the internet directly (not necessarily all the time), without the need for screens or keyboards, where we basically can live inside a shared virtual world, communicating, controlling, and sensing everything in our minds.

Is that inevitable?

Let’s first assume that the materialistic worldview is correct, meaning that human consciousness and thought is nothing more than neurons firing, and that there are no disembodied conscious entities like ghosts or spirits. If the sum total of humanity is no more than physics, then the Matrix is theoretically possible.

Let’s also assume that we’ll be able to find a way to interface the computer or internet to the changing and highly complex neural structure of our brains, without adverse effects.

And let’s just assume that technological advances will eventually make the Matrix possible – all you have to do, is recline and plug yourself in (assuming it’s not wireless). Other than a small minority of people diving into it, will the rest of us follow?

Maybe not.

If things become ideal, the Matrix will be incredibly compelling. Since computer data will have direct access to the brain, virtual environments with incredible sensations can be created and experienced, such that phycial roller coaster rides, reverse bungee jumping, and skydiving become sluggish in comparison. Imagine a heroin-induced high on steroids (assuming you’ve tried both heroin and steroids), only better. I’ll be the first to get addicted.

But that’s only if things become ideal. Of course, things will never be ideal.

Assuming that the internet remains decentralized, we can expect there to be rogue sites or virtual environments, created by naughty boys and girls. Imagine entering a rogue environment, designed specifically to harm visitors. The damage done will potentially be more than what a very bad drug trip can do, much worse than a serious case of paranoid schizophrenia. A horror nightmare on steroids?

Besides rogue sites, there will also be (black hat) hackers. Sure, if our brains are connected directly to the internet, there will be very serious security measures in place to prevent our minds from getting hacked. But because the payoffs of a successful hack is so high, where the hacker can potentially gain control over your mind, or let you hear their voice whenever they want, or rewrite your memories, or eventually possess you, there eventually will be a hacker smart and patient enough to break past your firewall.

That firewall is your final protection against the your loss of control over the only thing in the world that really matters – your mind.

Would you risk the ultimate loss so that you can enjoy the ultimate experience?

I don’t think so.


19 Responses

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  1. Ivan Chew said, on February 24, 2007 at 3:46 am

    Thought-provoking post. OK, who are the “a lot of people”? : )

    Basically, the argument here is that nothing can be hackproof. Hence, this flaw will prevent the Matrix from being developed. I think it’s more accurate to say the Matrix will be developed some day (hence, it will happen). But whether it will be adopted on a wider scale and scope is another issue. I believe there will be some people (not many, but some) who will try it out, regardless of the risks. Humans, by nature, are less-than-rational.

  2. coleman yee said, on February 24, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Totally agree. There’ll be people jumping in to the Matrix, Just as there will always be people trying out dangerous hallucinogens.

  3. Benjamin Koe said, on February 24, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Such an interesting post. But I’d like to add that the Matrix (like in the movie) does not have the similar properties as other 3D environments such as Second Life because in the Matrix there are rules that don’t allow people to create their own environments like Second Life does. Say if it was a controlled world like the one in the movie with no one being able to create rouge environments or stimulate the senses in bad ways, would that then be a feasible?

  4. coleman yee said, on February 26, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Yep I was assuming a decentralized internet, like what we have today – I find it hard to imagine the internet becoming central-controlled. But, just for argument, if the internet does become central-controlled, I think there will still be a few rogue environments, perhaps not enough to have much effect. You might remember that the Matrix movie had some elements beyond control – Neo and company, and the multiplying Smiths.

  5. strangeknight said, on February 26, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Notwithstanding the accuracy of using popular movies to explain certain ideas —

    One of the big ideas of The Matrix is that we’re already living in it. This is a controversial idea, quickly rejected, but has roots all the way back to Plato’s cave.

    Anyway, would like to point out that human behaviour in what we know as “the real world” is “hackable” as well. From propaganda to religion to social engineering — people are manipulated and influenced consciously and unconsciously all the time.

    A completely virtual world like in The Matrix or the Snow Crash metaverse will have new kinds of hackers, but I think people will adapt, just as society has adapted to the “hacking” of our “real world” selves.

  6. kwokheng said, on February 26, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Well, I don’t mean transhumanist = Matrix.

    I mean transhumanist in the sense of augmented technologies.

    And even if there are hackers, it does not deny the possibilities of a transhumanist society from occuring from the simple fact that in every real situation, there’re hegemonists and counter-hegemonists. The mere presence of counter-hegemonists does not deny any possibility of an hegemonic order.

    If the sum total of humanity is no more than physics, then the Matrix is theoretically possible.

    Unfortunately, despite the fact that the sum total of humanity is more than physics, the fact remains that there is less there is possibly known about the emotive and physiological in relation to logical appearances of the human body and it is through that, that a lot of social movements become amplified.

    As strangeknight does mention, this goes back to the notion of ‘Plato’s cave’ and for that… a reading of Howard Bloom’s ‘Global Brain’ is good order.

  7. coleman yee said, on February 26, 2007 at 6:48 pm


    Good points you made.

    The parallel with Plato’s allegory assumes that we’re born into that particular reality, be it the “real world” or the Matrix. However, I made the (not-very-Matrix) assumption that there was actually awareness and a choice in the matter:

    “And let’s just assume that technological advances will eventually make the Matrix possible – all you have to do, is recline and plug yourself in (assuming it’s not wireless).”

  8. Joe said, on October 13, 2007 at 3:33 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that places like the matrix will eventually exist. The porn industry will lead the way, estimated at 14 billion dollars annually. The money to be made in that arena alone is enough to invent it. Tell a bunch of horny guys that they can sleep with any beautiful woman they desire, but there might be some side effects? If it feels real or even better, people will risk, harm, and even destroy their own futures for instant gratification. It’s human nature…. From there all other things will come…

  9. BDR said, on October 30, 2007 at 4:43 am

    This is a very interesting and thought provoking topic. As far as the matrix being an actual reality or virtue reality seeing how far technology has come thus far. It is feasible to say whatever man (Human Race) set his mind to do ultimately it is accomplished. There are numerous of accountabilities where man has created a paradigm shift rather it be for the good of humanity, greed, destruction and or peace that has revolutionized how we do things today compare to just some years ago. To name a few let start with the nuclear weapons which are a massive form of destruction on a global scale, next the automobile a motorized machine transporting people and goods from point A to point B, C, and D. Computers which have allowed man to space walk efficiently and effectively mapped the Earth and land on the moon as well as view other distant planets and stars not just in our own galaxy but in galaxies light years away. These are just a few facts that proves man is not only the dominant species on this planet but is the only species capable of imagining (dreaming) an idea and making that idea into reality. The only formidable foe that stand against man and his quest to achieve another idea or thought is time. However, man has learned the virtue of patience and therefore employee patience more regularly then that of time past. Fact is we live in the information age (era) of technology which is vastly increasing in speed and efficiency to the point a computer built today would be outdated before a year has past. It is more than evident that impossible is nothing compare to man and thus the reality of minds being linked together in cyberspace in not a question of if it is possible but more realistic to ask when will it be possible.

  10. lifeinstereo said, on December 14, 2007 at 4:36 am

    I would imagine that if we had direct access to the brain through some biotechnological API, we could simulate other entities and players and have a “private” version of the Matrix for ourselves, on a small scale to simulate reality, dreams, games, etc… and choose to play alone or who to connect with, if we did decide that we wanted shared experience. I wouldn’t join a central network of people I wasn’t comfortable with, however, a private network or a single-player experience I wouldn’t mind as much.

    You know… Playstation 10 or XBox Infinity

  11. coleman yee said, on December 14, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Joe: I suspect that you’re right!

    BDR: No doubt that man has been able to achieve great and seemingly impossible things with time, but you’re saying that everything will eventually be achievable – a claim which I find questionable. Some impossible things, I suspect, will remain impossible.

    lifeinstereo: That’s quite possible and certainly a lot safer. But while you’re immersed in your XBox Infinity experience, you’d better hope no one breaks in physically and takes over your machine.

  12. lifeinstereo said, on February 9, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    As far as breaking into the machine goes, looking at the realistic future of how hardware and biology will be integrated, we are probably looking at nano or molecular computers that are embedded. So, I’m thinking more along the lines of something like a symbiotic system rather than a machine we plug into. Even with external hardware, we would more than likely use type of signal or wave, not an actual physical integration that requires us to “plug in”. Either way, this could be done. Especially if we subscribe to solipsism. I don’t see how the ability to close your eyes, view an interface in your contact lenses and choose to turn on “matrix mode” is much different than dreaming. We sleep and we are vulnerable to “attack”. Especially with 50 billion nano-bots attached to your neuron structures and inaccessible to anyone not performing neurosurgery, it’s not much different than sleep at all.

    Of course, the lens reference was just a simple example (see here): http://www.bhfo.org/news/press-releases/contact-lens-display-system-2.html

    We are talking safety vs. possibility here. We all know that the “impossible” is possible in dreams. Our brain runs simulations every night, but without practice in lucid dreaming we just don’t have much control. We are basically seeking dream stabilization technology. Our dreams simulate other entities and abstract situations. We know the mind can do it, we just need to find a way to control our subjectivity.

  13. John said, on November 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Even though hackers can hack computers, we still use them!
    As long as we can unwind and be left alone sometimes (be offline, reboot, do system restore,etc) and have some solid base unit that cannot possibly be touched by others as it is not “shared”, there is no reason for matrix not to occur.

    Some doors cannot be broken in the real world and some would not be in the matrix.

    Ofcourse it wont be perfect just as murders occur today.

  14. grind said, on December 11, 2008 at 9:27 am

    The matrix is definitely gonna happen, no doubt about it, its just a matter of when.
    Im hoping for like 2020-2030, which is what kurzweil predicts and if you know kurzweil then you know he’s not an idiot who’s just throwin numbers out there.
    That whole thing about people trying to hack your minds is plain stupid, i could sit here and expand on that but im much too lazy.

  15. coleman yee said, on December 11, 2008 at 9:41 am

    @grind: I’ve read Kurzweil. He’s very smart, but no matter how smart he is, he can’t predict the future accurately, and his predictions are based on a many fundamental assumptions, including the worldview.

    I won’t address the rest of the arguments you made. They aren’t even arguments.

  16. submachine0 said, on January 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    very cool article. very valid points, also. however, we have to remember that there are dangerous places to be in in the real world as well. there are rogues who would hurt us, hurt us psychologically, and even kill us. there are those who would make us slaves. we can’t expect to make a perfectly safe world. it very likely won’t be safe. and at first may be even more dangerous. but what will happen is that some sort of system will likely be instituted (fortunately or unfortunately) which will serve to safeguard visitors/dwellers and control the tools available to do harm to other visitors/dwellers. what i’m saying is that all those dangers which the author lists are present in everyday life (except the mind-control part – and even that could be debated).

  17. roman gmekre said, on May 29, 2010 at 8:52 am

    replace “matrix” with “facebook”

  18. Earl said, on January 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Security matters will be solved really easily if technology of connecting our brains into network will exist. Logical providing of security will look like forbidding users having direct access to brains, people will have access only to the virtual world – it will be almost the same like living in our current world, but in comparison with virtual one there will be the way of changing reality (but not changing the minds)

  19. Earl Fox said, on February 6, 2011 at 4:49 am

    Why God didn’t gave us ability of sending thoughts to each other directly (really without using the words)? Because we can’t manage our word-based restricted world. Yes, words sets for us straight rules and put us into frame which restrict us in damaging other brains (though even today we can use words for damaging minds: deceiving, saying bad things about each other, misleading through showing the reality which doesn’t exist, etc).

    Words are like an HTTP protocol, and our mind is like a web-server who handles (or not handles) all the requests. If our security systems in mind are weak, we let others manipulate us through the words (rich corporations do it through the words of thousands and millions of people which maintained by one structure)

    So, programming languages are like words and they create a whole new world for expressing thoughts the way we want and by even creating the world the way we want, and that’s why I believe that Matrix is possible. But personally I would expected from the Matrix something more than was represented in movie.

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