This is the Way the World Ends

Earlier this year, Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk said that, based on the “rate of [technological] advancement,” it is extremely unlikely that we are not living in a computer simulation. The latest issue of The New Yorker reports that “two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.” That “breaking out” bit is nonsense, of course—what they’re really trying to do is be the first to reverse engineer The Matrix.

I find this kind of thing absolutely terrifying—the idea that the sort of person who does their best philosophizing in the Wellness Tent of a “curated” version of the Burning Man festival is precisely the same sort that is determining the future of mankind. (Barring some sort of apocalyptic event, that is. If it’s bombs or a super volcano, then Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is our best bet.) And I do believe they will be successful.

Therefore, I have prepared some notes on a few possible prequels to The Matrix as an aid in reading the signs of the times. The major mistake the Wachowskis made in writing The Matrix was their decision to make the machines responsible for the creation of the Matrix. Morpheus tells Neo that the machines created “a computer generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into” a battery. That doesn’t ring true. Like Cypher, mankind chooses the Matrix from the beginning.

1. The Matrix begins as a virtual playground for the plutocratic elite, who are basically as they are in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium (nanotech, neuroenhancement, etc.). The majority poor dwell in shanties in Fishtown (if you like Charles Murray) or Texas (if you prefer Tyler Cowen), and their lives are either terrible or trivial. The plutocrats make a deal with them, offering them a better, virtual reality in exchange for the use of their bodies as batteries. It’s all fun and games until the machines decide to rebel.

2. The machines ally with the majority shantytown poor in order to overthrow the plutocracy. After the revolution, the poor allow themselves and their progeny to be made into batteries in exchange for a better, virtual reality. A handful of plutocrats seek shelter underground and found the city of Zion. One of the surviving plutocrats, some sort of genius geneticist, is able to introduce nanobots into his genetic code. His descendant (Neo) can send electromagnetic pulses from his body. Neo’s salvific power is really just fancy nanobot tech from the old days. In a redo of the original, Zion defeats the machines and Neo, à la Terminator, falls on his sword in order to end his line and eliminate the last working robots (in his own blood). Man, à la Battlestar Galactica, chooses to start over in the Stone Age.

3. The Matrix is an American government program intended (first as a kind of game theory, of course) to do away with the pesky prejudices and inequalities that make “freedom” such a difficult proposition. There are virtual reality exchanges in each state that allow citizens to choose an avatar which they can upgrade or degrade as they choose. Participation is voluntary at first, but quickly becomes compulsory when the cognitive elite realizes that children can only be said to have proper freedom when their original experience is as an androgynous avatar that has never encountered “nature’s fascism.” Eventually, participation in non-virtual reality is banned.

Tony Sifert