From Plato’s Cave to Plato’s Cockpit

At the 2016 Recode Conference, Elon Musk stated human beings are most likely living inside a video game simulation that is indistinguishable from reality. As justification, Musk pointed to the continued development of virtual and augmented reality, making the case that soon people will not be able to tell the difference between these artificial game environments and the base reality we’re all accustom to.

While the idea our reality is false received tremendous amounts of press coverage, it isn’t new, and was in fact first posited over 2,400 years ago by Plato. While Plato knew nothing about virtual and augmented reality, he did understand that everyday life is simply a sensory experience we all have in common, and that because our senses can be wrong this reality may also be entirely wrong. Plato’s description of this theory is famous and is known to history as the Allegory of the Cave.

Briefly described, Plato’s muse Socrates paints a scene in our mind’s eye where people are chained down inside a cave, their heads bound and forced to stare at one of the cave’s walls. On this wall a shadow puppet show is being shown to the prisoners. Were these people to never escape their forced bondage, they would spend their lives believing the shadows of objects they perceive on the wall are real and that there is nothing more to reality. In the story though, Socrates escapes the cave and comes to realize the truth of the prisoner’s situation and by extension the nature of reality itself.

The sad truth of human existence is that while our minds can escape Plato’s cave, our physical bodies cannot. Through Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies though, we must no longer rely on the cave’s puppet master to determine the reality we experience. Rather, our mind’s will be in complete control over the reality our five senses perceive.

Before exploring this idea further, we must issue a short disclaimer. No technology now or in the future will be able to alter the most basic lens through which we perceive reality, that is, the lens of good and evil. In any real or artificial simulation, humans will perceive time, space, and the needs forced upon us by nature (such as thirst). These needs, when left unaddressed, turn into problems, and problems take away our happiness. This prompts humans to act in the pursuit of the things that solve these problems and we call these things goods. Conversely, things that don’t solve problems are not valued by humans and we term them evil.

Goods fall into two categories: worldly and conceptual. Worldly goods such as water that can be perceived through our five senses, while conceptual goods such as honor only exist in our interactions with one another. Returning to Plato’s analogy, worldly goods are the shadows on the cave wall, while conceptual goods are the one’s perceived when our mind’s escape the cave.

While the Fourth Industrial Revolution cannot change good and evil, it will provide us unlimited control over the time, space and things our five sense perceive. Through these technologies, we will have the ability to immediately conjure up any “thing” we desire through voice command, bodily movements, as well as based on our past preference history.

A waterfall of new technologies will enable us to turn the prison of Plato’s Cave into a cockpit at our command. Below are example technologies that will enable this fundamental change matched to the sense they will revolutionize.

Sight -

Merge VR: Virtual reality technology.

ARLab: Augmented reality technology.

Sound -

Here One: Complete control over every sound you hear.

Touch -

GloveOne: “Feel” inside virtual reality.

BearTek® Gloves: Control your environment through bluetooth enabled gloves.

Taste -

Project Nourished: Trick your mind into thinking you’re eating something you’re not through a combination of technologies.

Smell -

oNotes: Control what smell you experience at the touch of a button.

(Originally published on January 22nd, 2017)