‘Transcendence’, starring Johnny Depp, features events which are predicted by many scientists and futurists as possible in reality within the first half of this century. The predictions featured include those subscribed to by Ray Kurzweil, Hugo de Garis, and Jason Silva.
The plot involves two leading computer scientists working towards their goal of sparking the Technological Singularity, as a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent them from creating a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.
In the movie we see Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) spark the singularity, or what they like to call ‘transcendence’, through the uploading of his mind to a supercomputer. Currently, this story is certain science fiction – its actual occurrence seems no more realistic than the creation of the technologies we see in The Matrix, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, iRobot, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
‘Transcendence’ is Uniquely Realistic
What is interesting most so about this movie, is that it was made in close collaboration with expert consultants from the field of artificial intelligence. As testament to the theories of these consultants, Rebecca Hall has expressed her interest in the subject, by stating she found herself caught up in studying the ideas of the singularity, and transhumanism – wondering just how topical these issues are becoming.
The movie is unique because it brings home the reality of the world we are living in – in part because this is the first time that a movie featuring sentient AI, has dug deep into the ethical issues, and the realistic need to ‘stop and think a minute; what are the implications of releasing this technology?’. Moreover, we are now at a time when we are taking our first steps into the world of AI, with Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Cillian Murphy has said, “what people like about films like this is it’s the not too distant future; this could be happening now or tomorrow”
To understand the future we are moving into, Ray Kurzweil (AI expert and Chief of Engineering at Google) asserts that we must first understand that the rate we are achieving our technological advances, is accelerating. You can find out more about this in our explanation of exponential growth.
Below, we will discus the real future predictions that are featured in transcendence, with reference to the experts that make them.
Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity
The technological singularity (often called simply the singularity), is most notably predicted by famed futurist Ray Kurzweil, as being an event which will happen around the year 2045. The singularity is defined as the point in time when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than the unaided human mind. At which time, this enhanced mind will teach itself to become infinitely smarter, and so cause an ‘intelligence explosion’. The singularity will undoubtedly immediately lead to the curing of all diseases, even aging, and solve all of humanities other traditional problems.
Some people consider the singularity to be an inevitable event, should technology continue to advance at an exponential rate. What else will happen after the singularity is impossible to predict with certainty. A theory though includes, the ‘terminator scenario’, where technology turns against humanity.
Hugo de Garis and the Terrans
The ‘terminator scenario’ theory is what is predicted by many people to be what will spark an opposition to technological advancement in the coming decades. These terrorists are featured in Transcendence with consideration given to the predictions of top scientist/futurist, Hugo de Garis, who has said he was employed as a consultant for the writing of the movie. He predicts that these anti-technology terrorists, or as he calls them ‘terrans’, could cause major conflict in the future, and will be a major threat to our future survival. You can read more about the predictions of Hugo de Garis, in his book – The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans.
Jason Silva, the Performance Philosopher
Jason Silva is a futurist, who makes incredible, inspiring and thought provoking short films. Unlike Hugo de Garis, Jason is more optimistic about the future. He believes that the singularity could happen around the year 2045, and that the ‘terminator scenario’ will not happen. He asserts that humanity will continue to integrate with machines; that machines will never turn against us, because they will ‘be us’. If you like to be inspired by the wonder of the incredible possibilities of the future, I recommend you check out the videos on Jason Silva’s YouTube Channel. Jason also presents the mind bending series by National Geographic, Brain Games.
Carmena and Maharbiz, Scientists
Information about the involvement of Jose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz as consultants for Transcendence, came courtesy of the LA Times, in their article ‘Transcendence’ ponders as it propels. The UC Berkeley scientists are said to have spent 10 hours examining the script – discussing issues such as the limits of nanotechnology, and the problems trying to define consciousness.They were both featured in the media last year due to their work on Brain-Machine Interfaces (connecting the brain to the computer). Details about their pioneering work in BMI can be found in their academic paper, Neural Dust: An Ultrasonic, Low Power Solution for Chronic Brain-Machine Interfaces. For information about their work, written in normal english, you can read this article from Time Magazine, Your Future Brain-Machine Implant: Ultrasonic Neural Dust.
Transcendance, in theaters April 25th, 2014, written by Jack Paglen, directed by Wally Pfister, and produced by Christopher Nolan. The cast includes Johnny Depp, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany. Like their Facebook fan page.
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