WHEN The Matrix came out in 1999, those of us who worked at In.Tech (now Bytz) unofficially declared it “The In.Tech Movie,” and encouraged all our colleagues and readers to watch it.
We did the opposite with its sequels, of course. The less said about The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) the better, although many of us still retain a fondness for the series of animated shorts collected under The Animatrix (2003).
So you’d think we would be jumping for joy with news that Warner Bros. was in early talks to reboot the series (with the term “reboot” being used very loosely). That news excited or horrified the Internet in equal measure.
The Matrix was a bit of a sleeper hit, with Warner Bros. not expecting it to have had the commercial and critical impact it did. It was the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1999 worldwide, and won four Academy Awards.
It brought us a great story by the Wachowskis (then known as the Wachowski Brothers), and had groundbreaking special effects, including the much-imitated ‘bullet time’ effect.
On March 14, The Hollywood Reporter said that Warner Bros. was in the early stages of developing a relaunch, although it was also quick to point out it was not clear what shape this would take.
After all, a TV series was recently nixed, the publication reported, but added that the studio “sees a model in what Disney and Lucasfilm have done with Star Wars, exploring the hidden corners of the universe with movies such as Rogue One.”
Zak Penn, who wrote the Syfy channel’s Alphas and was involved in some of Marvel Studios movies, is in talks to write a treatment, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Penn himself, in a series of tweets, suggested he is more interested in a continuation or expansion of the Matrix franchise, rather than a strict reboot or remake of the original 1999 film.
“All I can say at this point is no one could or should REBOOT The Matrix. People who know Animatrix and the comics understand,” he tweeted.
But even if the new movie/ series explores new territory, what new thing can it bring to the table?
After all, the idea of living in a computer-generated simulation or virtual reality, was already old hat in science fiction literature when The Matrix was released, which is why the Wachowskis did not make that realisation into a “twist ending.”
Indeed, the hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds out very early in the movie that the world he lives in is not real, and the story is how he steps into his destiny as humanity’s saviour.
Virtual Reality (VR), by any other name, would still smell as hoary. We went through all that in the mid to early 1980s when William Gibson’s Neuromancer sparked off the cyberpunk craze, but even that classic was not entirely new in its core concept of cyberspace and VR.
In fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the idea of plugging into a VR world goes back to 1909, with E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. A similar concept was explored in a 1930 story by Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt, The City Of The Living Dead.
Even the people of the future in Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World (1932) plug into “feelies,” an entertainment channel that lacks only the interactive dimension that would make it true VR.
So what new thing can “Matrix 2.0” plug into? Consider this a “spoiler,” if you like:
Perhaps it can go back to what was hinted at in The Matrix Revolutions, that the “reality” Neo and his band of rebels think is the real world, is yet another simulation.
That is, our world is itself a simulation.
The idea is not new, admittedly. Back in the day, Plato himself posited that what we perceive as reality is merely the reflection of a higher, more solid (or Platonic) reality that we cannot perceive with the senses.
It is different from the core belief of the Hindu concept of maya, or the veil of illusion with which we perceive the outside world.
It is also just about any book that Philip K. Dick has written, but most strongly resonates in his 1981 classic, VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), where reality as we know it is merely an overlay.
In 2003, Oxford University’s Nick Bostrom, in a paper titled Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? (PDF), suggested that we are possibly living in some kind of simulation.
He argued that at least one of the below must be true:
1) The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage;
2) Any posthuman civilisation is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); and
3) We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.
Fast forward to 2016, and Elon Musk – he of SpaceX, Tesla and Hyperloop fame – was made fun of for suggesting the same at a tech conference. But at least, he got us talking.
In essence, we’re probably living in a simulation crafted by our descendants to study us, their ancestors.
Think about it: Just how ridiculous has the world become in the last few years? We have Brexit, alternative facts, and Donald Trump as president of the United States. Manchester United has won the title more times than Liverpool FC, and have you seen the price of coffee lately?
Doesn’t it feel that one of the programmers of this simulation decided to, at best, stress-test the simulation; or at worst, to screw around with us?
And what happens if we then take the red pill?