Reality of Depiction and Prediction

"The Thirteenth Floor" was made in 1999, and centered on a controversial story across multiple levels of computer simulated worlds. From the technology point of view, the realism of a computer simulated virtual world depends on the fidelity of the simulation in various sensorial feedbacks, and the level of intelligence of computer AIs. As mentioned in the Technology section, the fictional concept in the movie corrsponeded to simulated reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and computer graphics research in our real world. In reality, none of these related technologies have developed to match the fidelity described in the movie, but the movie does offered good prediction in the direction where they would be pursuing in the future. This section will discuss in more detail of the accuracy of depiction and prediction of "The Thirteenth Floor", in comparision to other similar Sci-Fi films.

An example of an older and similar movie is "Total Recall". The movie was casted in 1990 [1], and later remade in 2012 [5]. In the movie, there is a technology company that offers their customers a chance to experience presence in a remote Mars world through a computer simulation portal. After frequent immersion into this world, the main character in the movie started to have illusions and could not tell real life from simulated ones. As shown in the picture above, the two versions of the movie showed slightly different fictional interfaces to jack the user into the simulation world. Compared to the green retina scanning lines in "The Thirteenth Floor", having physical contact to the head is a more realistic prediction of such brain computer interface systems, and research in the real world has agreed with this point []. For social implications, "Total Recall" also discussed the vague line between real and simulated worlds, and crimes committed by the simulation users.

There are two similar movies in the same year (1999). "The Matrix" is probably the most famous one, and reviewers actually claim that "The Thirteenth Floor" would had a much bigger hit if not released in the same year with "The Matrix"[2]. The latter also depicted a future world when machines have taken over the world, and kept human beings in vessels to utilize their biological energy. To make the human believe they still own and live normal lives on the earth, the machines have created simulated world where the humans' mind get pluged into. The movie also caused deep discussion about what reality really is, similar to "The Thirteenth Floor". From the technology point of view, "The Matrix" also depicted the jack-in process in a more physical and realistic way, where the computer had connectors to plug into a hole at the back of the users' head, in order to transmit simulation signals to the brain.

Another similarity of the two movies is that they both showed a cluster of servers used to simulate AIs in the virtual worlds. This is very accurate prediction because to realize AI at this level of intelligence, great computing power is definitely needed. In reality, AI is often based on decision trees, and an intelligent AI will need great storage and computing power to store a large decision tree and make smart decisions in real time [6]. "The Thirteenth Floor" depicted a room full of simulation servers, while "The Matrix" showed machine farmland used to simulate the world.

Regarding depiction of Computer Graphics, "The Thirteenth Floor" was closer to reality. The "end of the world" is a precise depiction of computer graphics. The center of the city was rendered in photorealistic style in real time, therefore took great computing power and memory. For this reason, the "end of the world" had only stationary objects, and was displayed in wire frames. This is very accurate because animation takes computing resources, and wire frame is the least costly method to render virtual objects [7]. "The Matrix" is famous for its green digital rain. It claims the hackers like the main character Neo can see those digital rains as the simulated world. This is a much more fictional setting than depicted in "The Thirteenth Floor".

From a social implication point of view, "The Matrix" is also among the top for inspiring philosophical discussions of what is reality (Blue and Red pills), the ethics of interaction with computer simulated characters (Agent Smith taking over other AIs' consciousness), crimes committed in the simulated world against human or AI characters (killing people in the simulation, revolution against the machines), failure of system (the viral Agent Smith), and freedom of speech in virtual worlds (killing freedom fighter in Zion). Partly benefit from the length of the trilogy, "The Matrix" included abundant controversial stories, and reached a unsummountable philosophical height of social implication questions in computer simulated worlds.

The other similar movie in 1999 was "eXistenZ" [3]. It told a story of advanced computer games, which can let the player experience a virtual world completely immmersed like in real life. Among all movies mentioned above, "eXistenZ" had the least realistic depiction of the brain computer interface. Instead of having a simulation computer making physical or optical contact with the brain, it showed the game simulation running in a semi-creature, semi-machine object, which had tentacles to plug into the user's belly button. The depiction is fictional since it is commonsense that human beings perceive the world surrounding them by multi-sensorial signals transmitted to the brain, from receptors in eyes, nose, ear, and so on.

An example of a newer and similar movie is "Source Code"[4]. In this movie, the body of the main character was severely destroyed in a bomb blast. In order to figure out the cause of the bomb accident, the government agency created a system to connect his brain to multiple parallel universes, through which the character went through the pre-blast scene again and again. Although the world is parallel universe, the depiction is similar to computer simulated virtual worlds. There is not much depiction on the technical side, except for the brain computer connectors shown in the picture above.


[1] Total Recall (1990) on IMDb

[2] The Matrix (1999) on IMDb

[3] eXistenZ (1999) on IMDb

[4] Source Code (2011) on IMDb

[5] Total Recall (2012) on IMDb

[6] Russell, Stuart Jonathan, et al. Artificial intelligence: a modern approach. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice hall, 1995.

[7] Van Dam, Andries, et al. Computer graphics: principles and practice. Pearson Education, 2013