For years, the famous inventor Elon Musk has been receptive to the idea that we are living in a simulation. The theory, based on the work of philosopher Nick Bostrom, assumes computers will continue to advance in power and, subsequently, in the fidelity of the simulations they can create. Eventually, these simulations will become indistinguishable from actual reality. Thus, what’s to say we aren’t already in one ourselves?
It’s a compelling thought experiment. What if the Matrix was possible and already here? It’s not surprising that Musk — who figured out how to send money through the internet, wants to build levitating trains, and named his electric-car company after visionary inventor Nikola Tesla — would be taken with such an idea. We’re living in 2019 and Elon’s living in 3019. Or at least, he wants to.
But — what if we were wrong? What if the simulation that Elon Musk assumed we were trapped in was not a 1:1 recreation of what we assume is reality, but instead a rudimentary simulation running off of a PlayStation 2 graphics chip? This might explain the Cybertruck.
The Cybertruck is a truck that Elon Musk unveiled last night. It is a Humvee-ish vehicle that looks like it was made for a direct-to-video Starship Troopers ripoff called Spaceship Soldiers. It looks like a secret car you unlock if you get a high score on every Cruisin’ USA track. It looks like one of those first-pass shots on a visual-effects highlights reel from 1992. It looks like it has a physics system completely separate from every other object on this earth and if you hit a curb at the wrong angle, the truck will glitch out and clip through an entire city block, causing untold devastation. It is the Cybertruck.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Ah, a Cybertruck. A truck that is computer-y.” Wrong! Cybertruck should be said in the exact same way that one might pronounce the word “cyberpunk,” a sci-fi genre all about how technology will completely ruin us once we start jamming chips into our brains. Just look at the Cybertruck logo. It’s not some coder font — it’s graffiti. It’s the Official Truck of App-Catalyzed Urban Decay. This a Blade Runner-ass truck for the end times. It is not a utopian, idealistic creation — and in that sense, it is refreshing. Elon Musk is not selling us the world we want; he is selling the world we have (starting at MSRP $39,900). The Cybertruck is, in a sense, practical. Everything about this truck screams, “This is the car you will drive through overgrown suburbs full of decaying houses, searching for potable water. This is the car the next three generations of your family will be born in the trunk of. When the feral wolves attack, this truck will protect you.”
But the truck will not protect you. In its unveiling last night, Musk tried to show off the vehicle’s “bulletproof” windows. He asked an employee to throw a rock at the window. The window fractured. They tried it again on a second window. That window also fractured. It was a pure, perfect distillation of what Elon Musk’s whole, like, deal is. He has spent years pouring his billions into projects that make science fiction into science fact, in order to sell people and governments expensive stuff that maybe half-functions. A demonstration of the dent-proof doors went off more successfully.
Many of Musk’s products are self-indulgent, but this might be the most self-indulgent. Like, you know how there are people who design their living rooms to look like the bridge of the Enterprise, or have rooms dedicated to baseball paraphernalia? The Cybertruck can then be read as Musk’s attempt to shape not just his own life, but the lives of others, to mimic the media of his youth. The whole thing resembles a low-poly model — a 3-D asset made of a limited number of polygons based on the limited computing power of older devices. Musk doesn’t just want a Cybertruck for himself, he wants to see thousands of Cybertrucks roaming the streets, sticking out like sore thumbs, parts of the world that quite literally haven’t fully rendered to the level of everything else around them. The notion might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Silicon Valley is full of newly minted millionaires with more money than they know what to do with. The Cybertruck looks very stupid, but so do AirPods.
To bring whatever the hell I’m trying to say full circle, it might help to think of an old meme called “glitch in the Matrix,” which is a reference to the film and a riff on video-game NPCs (Non-Playable Characters). Older video games, the ones that might have a low-poly cybertruck, had a relatively limited number of NPCs, which meant that as you traversed through the world, you might see identical characters grouped together. If you encountered the same phenomenon in real life — two people who do not know each other wearing identical outfits on the bus, for instance — then that’s a glitch in the Matrix. Should it reach critical mass (a big if), the effect of seeing Cybertrucks sprinkled among traffic on the highway would produce the same “glitch” effect, the same uneasy feeling that all might not be as it appears. Maybe the Cybertruck is a way of raising awareness of the simulation in which we are trapped, and maybe once we become convinced of the simulation, Elon will unveil his next trick to break us out.