Four Singularity Movies – The World Wants the Future

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“Will we survive our technology?” – The Singularity Film, 2009

With four films coming out less than a year apart, it’s a pretty cool time to be interested in the future and the growth of intelligence. That’s right, four movies on the Singularity! In a year’s span. It’s kind of nuts: Transcendent Man debuted earlier this year, The Singularity Film and The Singularity is Near will both premier before year’s end, and We Are The Singularity is still in production. All four movies have the same general topic and largely similar casts of characters, but each views the future through a different lens. Not very comforting for those curious about the potentially greatest change humanity may ever face. Check out the trailers after the break.

Four movies about the Singularity (clockwise from top left):Transcendent Man still shot, We Are The Singularity promotional pic, The Singularity is Near promotional pic, The Singularity Film tag line

Four movies about the Singularity (clockwise from top left):Transcendent Man still shot, We Are The Singularity promotional pic, The Singularity is Near promotional pic, The Singularity Film tag line

So what’s the Singularity: crackpot idea, oncoming danger, Pinnochio story, or humanity’s hope? Each film chooses a different angle. What’s really amazing is that these movies are all spontaneously coming from different producers/directors. There’s a developing trend to discuss the issues of technology and intelligence even if most of the world has no idea what the Singularity means. I guess that whether you’re a technophile or a technophobe, there’s something to debate when you bring up the future. Even if you think the whole thing is one giant hair-brained notion you’ll at least get a kick out of the enthusiasm through which these films approach the subject.

The Singularity Film seems to focus on the monumental dangers and promises that the future holds, without really saying for certain how the Singularity may fit in. The trailer begins just by giving differing definitions of what Singularity means. Are we talking about the rise of artificial intelligence? Perhaps the Singularity marks the merging of man and technology. Maybe it’s just a point in history beyond which our predictions are meaningless.

While we won’t know for certain what director Doug Wolens believes until the movie premiers, the marketing campaign has already made its choice. The tag line is obviously a nod towards oncoming dangers. Heck, even the way they announce the premier date, “coming at the end of 2009″ seems pretty ominous. Still, Wolens previous topics, the Cannabis Cup, and a tree-hugger named Butterfly, probably mean that the film will be more even handed than the tag line.

We Are The Singularity, or WATS for short, is a totally different kind of animal. Director Chris Williamson, who runs his own blog about the Singularity, is actively pursuing potential viewers to donate to the film. Give Williamson $25 and he’ll put you in the credits, give you a free copy of the film, and let you enter a discussion group just for donors.

The $25,000 he hopes to raise isn’t the lion’s share of the funding, it’s more of a push to get people vested in the film. He wants the documentary to be community guided to some extent, and the donor group will choose the film’s title as well as have other input. Is Williamson, enthusiastic? Definitely, and the film is likely to be the same. It’s unclear how far along the shooting has progressed (he only has $1225 of the donations he hopes to raise), but we’ll keep you posted as it continues.

As I mentioned after watching the Tribeca Film Festival premier of Transcendent Man and the amazing panel discussion after, the film is as much about Ray Kurzweil as it is about the Singularity. In fact, much of the film is concerned with whether or not Kurzweil’s predictions stem from psychological pressures in his life. We’ve included the trailer here again for completeness.

Kurzweil gets a chance to guide his own response as writer, co-director, and co-producer of the movie version of his pivotal book The Singularity is Near. That’s a lot of input from one man, so expect the film to really express Kurzweil’s opinions first and foremost. Along side the main discussion of what the Singularity may mean for humanity, Kurzweil will provide a b-story line about Ramona, a robot billed as Ray’s female alter ego. What better way to understand Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity than by walking you through the proposed steps of a person/thing that will experience it? No trailers yet, but we’ll keep you up to date as we get closer to the premier.

Do four documentaries mean that the public is starting to believe in the Singularity? Probably not. Most people wouldn’t even know what you were talking about if you asked. Most experts don’t agree on a definition, as The Singularity Film is quick to point out. What we do know is that those people who are concerned with this possible future want to get the word out. Whether that word is think, fear, observe, or hope depends on which movie you’re watching.

Discussion — 36 Responses

  • digitalcole August 15, 2009 on 3:17 pm

    It seems that people who see Kurzweil speak are interested up to the point where he starts talking about bringing his father back to life. Then they put him in the category of crazy cook.

    It started me thinking. How exactly would you go about “bringing” someone back to life? Then it hit me, we use our own brains (memories) to create the individual synthetically. But, not just one persons brain. Every brain that has a memory of that individual. If we coupled that with every recorded document of the person, we could get a somewhat accurate representation of the person we’re trying to resurrect. We then could theoretically bring many people throughout the history of the human race back to life. It’s an interesting thought experiment.

    • I digitalcole October 28, 2009 on 7:13 pm

      With a unified theory of physics and a sufficiently powerful computer (probably larger than earth) you could run a perfect simulation of earth, and push the rewind button thus bringing back a copy of Kurzweil’s father. I think that’s probably what he has in mind.

      • Apurva I November 11, 2009 on 6:36 am

        LOL! hahahaha! Thats the craziest thing I ever heard, man no wonder they think he is a crack pot. I actually like the idea until I read your post man.. Now I cant stop laughing. lol!

        • Roko Apurva December 19, 2009 on 4:59 pm

          Technically, this is possible, though I doubt it is practical.

        • Roko Apurva December 19, 2009 on 5:01 pm

          I mean, if I said that the laws of physics were time-symmetric, would you know what I was talking about?

  • digitalcole August 15, 2009 on 11:17 am

    It seems that people who see Kurzweil speak are interested up to the point where he starts talking about bringing his father back to life. Then they put him in the category of crazy cook.

    It started me thinking. How exactly would you go about “bringing” someone back to life? Then it hit me, we use our own brains (memories) to create the individual synthetically. But, not just one persons brain. Every brain that has a memory of that individual. If we coupled that with every recorded document of the person, we could get a somewhat accurate representation of the person we’re trying to resurrect. We then could theoretically bring many people throughout the history of the human race back to life. It’s an interesting thought experiment.

    • I digitalcole October 28, 2009 on 3:13 pm

      With a unified theory of physics and a sufficiently powerful computer (probably larger than earth) you could run a perfect simulation of earth, and push the rewind button thus bringing back a copy of Kurzweil’s father. I think that’s probably what he has in mind.

      • Apurva I November 11, 2009 on 2:36 am

        LOL! hahahaha! Thats the craziest thing I ever heard, man no wonder they think he is a crack pot. I actually like the idea until I read your post man.. Now I cant stop laughing. lol!

        • Roko Apurva December 19, 2009 on 12:59 pm

          Technically, this is possible, though I doubt it is practical.

        • Roko Apurva December 19, 2009 on 1:01 pm

          I mean, if I said that the laws of physics were time-symmetric, would you know what I was talking about?

  • gideon August 16, 2009 on 12:33 am

    You could maybe reconstruct someones body but they would be more like a twin than the actual person. And implanting memories into someone wouldn’t make them that person (what you describe could be done to someone who hasn’t yet died, making some weird copy alongside the original). There are things about life (and the afterlife) not understood – even more so than dark matter or the edge of the universe. If someone could be brought back specifically like that how could you ever really know it was the same person you sought, instead of another with the memories of a life they never actually lived? Life itself must be understood first before it could be attempted – and if I knew what life was bringing people back from the dead may seem unnecessary ultimately if in someway we can be sure to find each other again. Whether the singularity can reveal what life really is or not I think is the biggest question it can answer and certainly would change people and civiization more than any other discovery.

  • gideon August 15, 2009 on 8:33 pm

    You could maybe reconstruct someones body but they would be more like a twin than the actual person. And implanting memories into someone wouldn’t make them that person (what you describe could be done to someone who hasn’t yet died, making some weird copy alongside the original). There are things about life (and the afterlife) not understood – even more so than dark matter or the edge of the universe. If someone could be brought back specifically like that how could you ever really know it was the same person you sought, instead of another with the memories of a life they never actually lived? Life itself must be understood first before it could be attempted – and if I knew what life was bringing people back from the dead may seem unnecessary ultimately if in someway we can be sure to find each other again. Whether the singularity can reveal what life really is or not I think is the biggest question it can answer and certainly would change people and civiization more than any other discovery.

  • digitalcole August 16, 2009 on 3:34 am

    @gideon
    Granted. The person brought back would have different external stimuli, therefore make different choices based on the particular experience. I think what we’d strive for would be as close a duplicate as possible, for all intended purposes the same as the original.

    I had mentioned on another site about having “collective memory” (flickr, blogs) and in the not too distant future “collective consciousness” (google wave?). It may be possible that recreating these individuals may become an automatic unconscious phenomena. Say for instance I’m thinking about what it’d be like to have a conversation with George Washington then suddenly a fabrication of the president appears and using all available knowledge about the original is able to have a meaningful conversation as George Washington.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/could-netflix-run-us-postal-service

  • digitalcole August 15, 2009 on 11:34 pm

    @gideon
    Granted. The person brought back would have different external stimuli, therefore make different choices based on the particular experience. I think what we’d strive for would be as close a duplicate as possible, for all intended purposes the same as the original.

    I had mentioned on another site about having “collective memory” (flickr, blogs) and in the not too distant future “collective consciousness” (google wave?). It may be possible that recreating these individuals may become an automatic unconscious phenomena. Say for instance I’m thinking about what it’d be like to have a conversation with George Washington then suddenly a fabrication of the president appears and using all available knowledge about the original is able to have a meaningful conversation as George Washington.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/could-netflix-run-us-postal-service

  • JJ August 16, 2009 on 3:34 pm

    It’s called the Dr. Frankenstein complex coupled with eugenics and wanting to be like God as did Lucifer.

  • JJ August 16, 2009 on 11:34 am

    It’s called the Dr. Frankenstein complex coupled with eugenics and wanting to be like God as did Lucifer.

  • gideon August 16, 2009 on 8:01 pm

    @digitalcole
    I do agree a person created in such a way could be a person like you or I. I guess I feel as far as bringing back a specific person that you cared for though (in this case his father) would be like creating a baby tailored to something that existed in your life and then replacing its life with someone else’s to that end. It could be out of love but theres something hollow in that transaction to me, as to say you created a life solely because you couldn’t move on, and their fate is tied to that decision. Makes a strange dynamic. I suppose humanity will have to decide how ethical implanting memories is because I can see both incredibly useful applications (instantly obtaining full professional knowledge on a subject for instance) and terrible (false memories of love to entrap someone, or planting lies in someones mind as the truth to cause harm to others, or manufacturing suicide bombers by the pound – I could go on). Hacking with a humans mind is a dangerous territory because it borders on mind control. This will only seem OK as long as the people doing it are believed to be ethical (but they might be hacked as well so again it still is dangerous to trust anyone specifically because they could have become compromised by mind scripting techniques as well). I think that accepting practices like this will erode our identities in ways that may not be of benefit to the species as a whole. The technology wont be stopped maybe but we should be warned of the implications because people that are fascists and dictators still exist and this ability in their hands is too frightening for me to consider almost (even if they weren’t in power yet this could get them there).

    As for a collective consciousness I don’t think that that would be the same as life. What if George already had 1000 others bring him up in the same way that day and he didn’t feel like talking anymore. I know I wouldn’t. Since its more of a simulation likely than the actual person in such a case seeing as a real person wouldn’t subject themselves to such random probing, then what you created to conversate with, assuming it would have anything to do with you, wouldn’t be a person then but something else. So i don’t think a collective really preserves anything more of a person than information, and a person is not just the information they’ve collected through their life’s experience even if its the only way we feel we can know them ourselves. In other words a collective consciousness could mean immortality to your thoughts and ideas, but not actually you since being dead you no longer influence them beyond what was recorded before. If the thoughts and ideas evolved further from that point it would be the device generating them – not the person it means to emulate. A gray area is if before dying the person somehow merged their mind physically with the machine in some way and was able to move from the dying body to the machine (possibly a slow process), but like I said we would need to know what life is before you could assume that they could do so successfully .

    • digitalcole gideon August 17, 2009 on 4:48 am

      First, thanks for the stimulating conversation. It does make you think.

      As for “imprinting” memories onto a separate life form. I’m not sure it that’s the direction any of us would want to go in. I imagine it would be more like building a personality first and importing that person into a manufactured body, be it biologic, cybernetic or maybe both. In a sense it would be more like building a computer with a complex operating system as apposed to creating biologic life just for the body.

      On the other hand yes, I can see someone or group wanting to bring Hitler or some other despicable character back. Perhaps we could have some “safe-guards” in place to stop such a thing but, it may also be possible that someone we thought would benefit humanity change into a diabolic character based on their new perceptions. The good news is we have some time to think about this.

      “George”
      Depending on our tech level and our ability of assimilate it. It may be possible to have multiple consciousnesses running at the same time. I admit that I thought about what it’d be like to live in a world where I could do anything I wanted. A place where the Laws of Physics need not apply. At first I thought about it in a linear fashion, much like life is now. I thought well, what would I like to do first, second and so on. I actually started to wonder how long it was going to take to live out all of my dreams. A couple hundred years at least? So, why not do it all at the same time. Now I’m not educated per se and know almost nothing about psychology. I work in a bookstore so that means I read…a lot. But, if the singularity does grant us all with a thousand point IQ then shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to make that work? And if we’re successful then it may not matter that we “summon” George a thousand times.

      I do agree with you about the question of life. Is it even possible to merge it with technology in a way that allows the consciousness to transcend or are we “stuck” in this body until the end?

      Thank you again for the discussion!

  • gideon August 16, 2009 on 4:01 pm

    @digitalcole
    I do agree a person created in such a way could be a person like you or I. I guess I feel as far as bringing back a specific person that you cared for though (in this case his father) would be like creating a baby tailored to something that existed in your life and then replacing its life with someone else’s to that end. It could be out of love but theres something hollow in that transaction to me, as to say you created a life solely because you couldn’t move on, and their fate is tied to that decision. Makes a strange dynamic. I suppose humanity will have to decide how ethical implanting memories is because I can see both incredibly useful applications (instantly obtaining full professional knowledge on a subject for instance) and terrible (false memories of love to entrap someone, or planting lies in someones mind as the truth to cause harm to others, or manufacturing suicide bombers by the pound – I could go on). Hacking with a humans mind is a dangerous territory because it borders on mind control. This will only seem OK as long as the people doing it are believed to be ethical (but they might be hacked as well so again it still is dangerous to trust anyone specifically because they could have become compromised by mind scripting techniques as well). I think that accepting practices like this will erode our identities in ways that may not be of benefit to the species as a whole. The technology wont be stopped maybe but we should be warned of the implications because people that are fascists and dictators still exist and this ability in their hands is too frightening for me to consider almost (even if they weren’t in power yet this could get them there).

    As for a collective consciousness I don’t think that that would be the same as life. What if George already had 1000 others bring him up in the same way that day and he didn’t feel like talking anymore. I know I wouldn’t. Since its more of a simulation likely than the actual person in such a case seeing as a real person wouldn’t subject themselves to such random probing, then what you created to conversate with, assuming it would have anything to do with you, wouldn’t be a person then but something else. So i don’t think a collective really preserves anything more of a person than information, and a person is not just the information they’ve collected through their life’s experience even if its the only way we feel we can know them ourselves. In other words a collective consciousness could mean immortality to your thoughts and ideas, but not actually you since being dead you no longer influence them beyond what was recorded before. If the thoughts and ideas evolved further from that point it would be the device generating them – not the person it means to emulate. A gray area is if before dying the person somehow merged their mind physically with the machine in some way and was able to move from the dying body to the machine (possibly a slow process), but like I said we would need to know what life is before you could assume that they could do so successfully .

    • digitalcole gideon August 17, 2009 on 12:48 am

      First, thanks for the stimulating conversation. It does make you think.

      As for “imprinting” memories onto a separate life form. I’m not sure it that’s the direction any of us would want to go in. I imagine it would be more like building a personality first and importing that person into a manufactured body, be it biologic, cybernetic or maybe both. In a sense it would be more like building a computer with a complex operating system as apposed to creating biologic life just for the body.

      On the other hand yes, I can see someone or group wanting to bring Hitler or some other despicable character back. Perhaps we could have some “safe-guards” in place to stop such a thing but, it may also be possible that someone we thought would benefit humanity change into a diabolic character based on their new perceptions. The good news is we have some time to think about this.

      “George”
      Depending on our tech level and our ability of assimilate it. It may be possible to have multiple consciousnesses running at the same time. I admit that I thought about what it’d be like to live in a world where I could do anything I wanted. A place where the Laws of Physics need not apply. At first I thought about it in a linear fashion, much like life is now. I thought well, what would I like to do first, second and so on. I actually started to wonder how long it was going to take to live out all of my dreams. A couple hundred years at least? So, why not do it all at the same time. Now I’m not educated per se and know almost nothing about psychology. I work in a bookstore so that means I read…a lot. But, if the singularity does grant us all with a thousand point IQ then shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to make that work? And if we’re successful then it may not matter that we “summon” George a thousand times.

      I do agree with you about the question of life. Is it even possible to merge it with technology in a way that allows the consciousness to transcend or are we “stuck” in this body until the end?

      Thank you again for the discussion!

  • Hervé Musseau August 17, 2009 on 9:41 pm

    @digitalcole
    You might be interested in looking up Martine Rothblatt and her mindfiles and mindclones writings.

  • Hervé Musseau August 17, 2009 on 5:41 pm

    @digitalcole
    You might be interested in looking up Martine Rothblatt and her mindfiles and mindclones writings.

  • Americo August 18, 2009 on 6:46 pm

    After reading mr Kurzweils’ book, I am somewhat concerned with his starry eyed optimism. I believe he ignores some pretty important dangers. I’ve written a book review, which i posted here: http://cyborgbookreview.com/bookreview.html. I m very interested in these movies, maybe they adress some of the concerns RK leaves untouched.

  • Americo August 18, 2009 on 2:46 pm

    After reading mr Kurzweils’ book, I am somewhat concerned with his starry eyed optimism. I believe he ignores some pretty important dangers. I’ve written a book review, which i posted here: http://cyborgbookreview.com/bookreview.html. I m very interested in these movies, maybe they adress some of the concerns RK leaves untouched.

  • Americo August 18, 2009 on 6:48 pm

    sorry, i posted the wrong adress for my book review. should be: http://cybookreview.com/bookreview.html

  • Americo August 18, 2009 on 2:48 pm

    sorry, i posted the wrong adress for my book review. should be: http://cybookreview.com/bookreview.html

  • Den August 18, 2009 on 9:06 pm

    Top 4 freakin’ singularity movies you can’t even watch. Where can I see/buy one in London? Hello?

    • Pete Den November 11, 2009 on 7:47 pm

      Where and When indeed. Vapor ware. These films are not available anywhere in the U.S. either.

  • Den August 18, 2009 on 5:06 pm

    Top 4 freakin’ singularity movies you can’t even watch. Where can I see/buy one in London? Hello?

    • Pete Den November 11, 2009 on 3:47 pm

      Where and When indeed. Vapor ware. These films are not available anywhere in the U.S. either.

  • TransAlchemy August 19, 2009 on 7:59 am

    TransAlchemy is also making a documentary…

  • TransAlchemy August 19, 2009 on 3:59 am

    TransAlchemy is also making a documentary…

  • Les December 15, 2009 on 6:16 pm

    While science maybe able to do this through documentation and other information. It is the personal life experiences that form the individual personality. without the life experiences, I don’t think you can have a true person.

  • Les December 15, 2009 on 2:16 pm

    While science maybe able to do this through documentation and other information. It is the personal life experiences that form the individual personality. without the life experiences, I don’t think you can have a true person.