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Transcendent Man (2009)

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Ray Kurzweil is on a journey to bring his ideas to the world.

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Credited cast:
Tom Abate ...
Hugo De Garis ...
Neil Gershenfeld ...
Ben Goertzel ...
William Hurlbut ...
Dean Kamen ...
Kevin Kelly ...
Aaron Kleiner ...
Sonya Kurzweil ...
Robert Metcalfe ...
Chuck Missler ...
Philip Rosedale ...


TRANSCENDENT MAN chronicles the life and ideas of Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and futurist that presents his bold vision of the Singularity, a point in the near future when technology will be changing so rapidly, that we will have to enhance ourselves with artificial intelligence to keep up. Ray predicts this will be the dawning of a new civilization in which we will no longer be dependent on our physical bodies, we will be trillions of times more intelligent and there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality. Human aging and illness will be reversed; world hunger and poverty will be solved and we will ultimately cure death. Critics accuse Ray of being too optimistic and argue that the dangers of the Singularity far outweigh the benefits, pointing out the apocalyptic implications that once machines achieve consciousness, we may not be able to control them. Whether Rays controversial ideas incite excitement or fear, dogma or disbelief this ... Written by Felicia Ptolemy and Celia Black

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1 March 2011 (USA)  »

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Will compete in the World Documentary Feature Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival 2009. See more »

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Great documentary about our love/hate relationship with technology
2 February 2012 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The documentary is, to an extent, a film version of Ray Kurzweil's nonfiction text, *The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology* (2006).

If you're not familiar with Ray Kurzweil's ideas, then I recommend familiarizing yourself with them. I want to go so far as to say he comes closest to articulating the general "mythology" of our time in regards to our relationship with technology.

This was a wonderful documentary to watch before reading his book. It's also interesting because the ambivalent nature of our relationship to technology comes through in an intense way. Indeed, the extremes of "technology-as-savior" and "technology-as-doom" are evident in this documentary. For example, Ray Kurzweil believes that, eventually, machine intelligence and human intelligence will merge together, and that the next stage of human evolution involves our connection to technology: this connection will result in immortality. And yet, other scientists believe that machine intelligence will stay separate from us and, surpassing us in capabilities, intelligence, vision, will come to see us as a mere "insects." Thus, they'll destroy us with as much prejudice as we destroy a nest of wasps or some irritating rabbits.

We have here the vision of either technology as Utopia or technology as Dsytopia: the U.S.S. Enterprise or Skynet.

A lot of the documentary foregrounds Kurzweil's views, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's biased towards them. A lot of time is spent allowing his detractors to speak. Particularly, Hugo De Garis becomes the representative of the "dark side" of Kurzweil's technological vision. De Garis spends a lot of time talking about the "artilect war," a scenario he has imagined. The artiloect war, according to De Garis, will take place right before machines achieve consciousness. The war will be fought between people who think that intelligent machines should be built and people who believe intelligent machines are our doom and should not be built. We basically have, in De Garis's scenario, a fight between the two visions: those who recoil from technology as the death of humanity and those who embrace technology as the full manifestation of humanity (i.e. our destiny).

There are other vexed issues in terms of our relationship to technology that come through in this documentary, namely, how we are coming to interface with it. One question is, where do the boundaries of the human end? After we have replaced our eyes, our lungs, our brains, our limbs with technological apparatuses, when do we stop being human and start being machines? This is a metaphysical question regarding the fundamental ontological nature of human being as an discrete experience.

A lot of folks are reluctant to watch this documentary because they feel like Kurzweil is "just wrong." I think that's the wrong way of going about it. It doesn't really matter if he's right or wrong. What matters is that such visions are even being expostulated. That a man has written books claiming that technology will save us; that others have written books saying that technology will destroy us: these developments are culturally significant.

They point toward our vexed relationship with technology, the degree to which we both love it. And hate it.

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