What Will Happen 5 Days Before The Singularity? “I’s” Feature Film Aims To Find Out

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Sci-fi films have a long history of speculating what the future might be like, seeking to understand what remnants of humanity will continue on when the world may undergo drastic change. More realistic projections focus on a pivotal period in the future, known as the Singularity, when technological growth will be so rapid and impact the world so deeply that human life will be transformed irreversibly. By definition, it’s difficult to envision what that will look like, but how will things look right on the cusp of that key time in human history?

That question is at the heart of a feature film in production called I’s. The film begins as the first artificial intelligence “wakes up”, and it follows a bike messenger named Mason Turk who must make a critical, personal choice in the face of the last days of “civilization as we know it.”  Currently in post-production, writer/director Chris Edgette recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take some of the technical aspects of the film to the next level. Via email, Chris provided some further insight into what those funds will accomplish.

First, here’s the trailer to the film:

First hearing about the technological singularity some 15 years ago, Chris was blown away. He realized that “it seems highly likely that we will be able to realize greater-than-human intelligence.” He added, “The bit that really rocked my world, though, was the understanding that we really cannot know what a super-intelligence could or would do.”

Setting out to make a film that dealt with these subjects presented its own challenges. “We try to respect the scientific ideas of the singularity,” he wrote, “even though many of them could not be overtly communicated in the film.”

He continued:

What struck me about the singularity, though, was that the process of rapid escalation provides a mirror for us all. If we create a singularity that wipes away our reality entirely, have we won or have we lost, as a civilization, as a species? If it simply disappears, do we continue as before? Those last days, if one knew they were happening, would be both glorious and melancholy. We would stand on the threshold of the potential death of our civilization or its epic rebirth, with no way to see the outcome. We could console ourselves with the knowledge that we had at least birthed something entirely new to our corner of the universe, something with knowledge and understanding beyond our dreams. With that, there would be the somber understanding that we had displaced ourselves from the top of the intelligence heap on Earth.

How will we feel when we, the toolmakers, have invented the tool that can out-invent us? These questions drove the project.

The film does not view the singularity as something bad or good; the characters actually express a spectrum of views on what is about to take place. The reflection itself, however, is interesting fodder for a small independent film. When faced with a terminal illness, we wonder about what we have done in life: Was it enough? Was it right? What really did we do with our time? The singularity provides the same moment of reflection for our civilization in the last days.

You can also hear from the actors about the subject of the film in the video produced as part of the crowdfunding pitch:

The Kickstarter campaign set out to provide the final polish to the film and raise the production value. Thanks to over a hundred backers, the project’s goal of raising $18,500 was met. Chris announced in an update that a first screening for the film was now scheduled for mid-October thanks to the efforts of the backers.

Now with just a few days left in the campaign, Chris has set a stretch goal of $25,000, which is slated to go toward improving the “the quality and interactivity of the augmented reality interfaces, allowing us to further explore the inner mind of the AI character.”  Extra funds received beyond the project’s initial target will also improve the color timing to further professionalize the look of the film and the depth to the sound and music. All the funds are going to the film production, as Chris admitted that “There is no fat; I am entirely unpaid and the associate producer is now working for a percentage of the film returns.”

Hollywood continues to churn out views of the future that are critical of technology and paint bleak, inhumane futures for its protagonists to struggle within, often with artificial intelligence depicted as a destroyer of humanity, whether metaphorically or physically. Chris underscored what makes this film unique in that regard: “We visualize the inside of an AI mind in a unique way…[and it] is not judged. For dramatic purposes, the AI begins as somewhat of a menace, but as the film ends, we realize that it is a being simply trying to do what we have done: create something greater.”

But would facing the imminent Singularity provide a different view of life in the not-so-distant future?

Chris commented that “I really wanted to walk the line [between a techno-optimistic and techno-pessimistic view]. I did not want to rule on whether the technological singularity would be good or bad in a traditional sense….we also wanted to include both technological and anti-technological perspectives. The technological aspect is slightly amplified by the film’s augmented reality, which isolates people as it connects them. An ecotopic commune provides the technological counterpoint, a point for deeper connection, and a place for the main character’s decision about what to do with his remaining time.  We tried not to idealize or criticize either space, but simply to reflect the oddity and range of human existence.”

The Kickstarter ends on Aug 16. If you’d like to contribute to the film, you can head over to the site and make a donation.

Discussion — 33 Responses

  • cedgette August 12, 2013 on 10:24 am

    Hello! I am the film’s director. I would love to hear any comments you have about the concept, along with ideas that might improve our effects and story.

    Regardless, we hugely appreciate your interest. We hope we can promote a bit more reflection about the Singularity in the public consciousness. Hopefully they want to learn more!

    Best wishes,

    -Chris

    • Martin Archer cedgette August 12, 2013 on 12:00 pm

      fantastic concept for a story. Finally someone is making an intelligent movie about the singularity. I would point out that the older guy at the desk in the trailer – who does most of the talking is quite difficult to understand, and I’d recommend you do some audio tweaking on his lines.

      • cedgette Martin Archer August 12, 2013 on 12:26 pm

        Thanks Martin!

        And thanks for the suggestion! We definitely are looking forward to the audio mixing on the film; I will note your comment specifically. It is sometimes harder for us to notice these things because we know the lines by heart. Recursive neural pathways are not always helpful!

    • Lightblind cedgette August 12, 2013 on 12:11 pm

      Hello there,

      its nice to see that someone actually tries to illuminate that complex topic a bit more in a cinematic way. Hollywood is often either too blant or too artsy in that regard.
      I think that, reallistically, we might not even notice the moment machines surpass the entirety of our abilities. Artificial intelligence will most probably emerge in the much more immersive and interactive web of the future. Thus any distinction between human and machine is totally blurred. If you, for example, talk to a bot, you don’t know if it just searches the web for similar inquiries and compiles an anser using advanced but not quite human-like abilities. One might argue that it lacks intelligence, but is non the less able to pass the turing test. Similarly entire industries might be run by computers (like the stock exchange is today), but we don’t exactely know if and where humans come in.
      There is much more to say but perhaps I simply wait for your movie and see what your take on that interesting topic is.

      • Bikkhu Lightblind August 29, 2013 on 5:36 am

        Agreed, we will miss emergence of sentient AI because we will have probably our own fun, like 30 – 50% unemployment. Sentient AI outcompete last people out of work, not the first. And why would humans have to come in? They simply don’t. As we do not use horses any more, the AI will have no use for humans.

    • nanomage cedgette August 12, 2013 on 12:46 pm

      This looks quite interesting – unfortunately, as I’m not living in the US it seems I won’t be able to see the movie anytime soon, which is rather disappointing. Good luck with it anyway.

      • cedgette nanomage August 12, 2013 on 12:53 pm

        Hi nanomage;

        We were concerned with shipping the DVDs internationally for the Kickstarter, but we absolutely plan to pursue international festivals and distribution. Depending upon how distribution works, our goal is ultimately to provide a download link to the full-resolution final film. I actually think this film might do very well in Europe in Asian markets, so we are definitely headed that direction.

        As someone who just moved back to the US from the UK, I very much appreciate the headaches of international blocks, DRM, etc.. We just need to be careful not to compromise any distribution rights through digital downloads at this time. I apologize for the inconvenience.

        Best wishes,

        Chris

        • Synchronyme cedgette August 13, 2013 on 3:06 am

          Chris, once your movie is ready, you should contact the Etrange Festival (etrangefestival.com): it’s one of the main french film con’ for everything scifi/fantastic/underground and they’re always looking for new stuff to show.

          • cedgette Synchronyme August 13, 2013 on 8:22 am

            Thanks! Will do!

    • Amber Case cedgette August 13, 2013 on 7:51 am

      I’d be very careful about the interface design and try not to make it too shiny or colorful. It takes away from the seriousness of the film. Hire a very minimalistic designer/typographer nerd to make futuristic interfaces (think Susan Kare icons). The issue with the current interfaces in the film is that they’re very large and obscuring to one’s vision, and they don’t have a smooth relation to each other. Recall that one’s visual space is not the only place where one can get alerts, and is already obscured by so many details. Less is more. Also think about haptics and buzzes. If you’re using audio/voice recognition, remember that this stuff works poorly in the real world, especially when noisy trucks drive by.

      • cedgette Amber Case August 13, 2013 on 8:21 am

        Agreed. We are working on improving interfaces now. We have a couple of issues that we have been trying to balance:

        1. Resolution – a real world interface would be very high resolution, but we just have 1920×1080, and many people will not even be able to watch it at that size. If we make things too small (my personal preference) then the audience will not be able to see key details. That said, the new interfaces will be more detailed than what is shown in the trailer.

        2. The frame – unlike a real interface, we have no peripheral vision in the frame. We have tried to avoid the traditional first person shooter style displays, but we also have to work within the boundaries of the frame.

        3. Haptics are difficult to express, though they are implied in the film, as is subvocalization.

        4. We are not trying to be Google or Apple. With a limited budget, we cannot beat millions of dollars in design. Instead, we have decided to do something different and allow for more customized interfaces. Some people’s vision will be very cluttered; others will be clean; some will be ugly; some will be streamlined. This will allow us to show character through the interfaces themselves.

        We are actually posting test footage on the Kickstarter today; I welcome your input.

        • Sara Neukirchner cedgette August 13, 2013 on 9:50 am

          Don’t forget that young girls/women will want pretty designs ;) I cannot envision a product in which customization (skins etc) wouldn’t also be available.

  • igor August 12, 2013 on 3:49 pm

    “ships to US only”?

    • cedgette igor August 12, 2013 on 4:09 pm

      Hi Igor. Please see my response directly above your comment. It is frustrating that we cannot now change this int he rewards. We are now prepared to ship DVDs to most regions of the world. Unfortunately, in the Kickstarter, it means you need to click “I am in the US”. If you support us, we will get the DVD to you.
      Best wishes, Chris

    • cedgette igor August 12, 2013 on 4:49 pm

      Hi Igor,
      I was just informed that we can add international categories to the rewards, so we have now done so for all rewards up to $250. My apologies for not understanding that we could do that.
      Cheers, Chris

      • Amber Case cedgette August 13, 2013 on 7:52 am

        We’re in the age of the Singularity and the digital moment and you can’t offer a digital version of the video? This is very confusing. Borders should not prevent the distribution of a film about a future, connected world.

        • cedgette Amber Case August 13, 2013 on 8:09 am

          Hi Amber,

          I agree – and we do plan to offer a digital download ASAP. I simply do not know what the terms/hosting/plan/payment will be, so I cannot promise anything for the Kickstarter. There is an arcane distribution process with films, and we will have to work with our distributors, if we get any, to figure out the solution. Self distribution is another option – and we may well go that route – but after four years of work and a whole lot of personal sacrifice, we are not willing to simply throw out of our options by posting the entire film online now. I hope that makes sense.

          Best, Chris

  • FTLNewsFeed August 12, 2013 on 7:21 pm

    I’m confused. I’ve seen the trailer and the Kickstarter video and while you say that you wish to walk the line between techno-optimism and techno-pessimism, from what I’ve seen you spend most of your time playing in the latter and very little playing in the former. All that I’m seeing is a pessimistic view of technology as a human interaction mediator (which I disagree with), a decision to stop an AI from becoming self-aware for some non-specified reason, and the AI trying its best to stop the protagonist. Throw in some extraneous love-story and “triumphant humans” moral thrown in and I don’t see the difference between this movie and Hollywood fodder like The Terminator, I Robot and The Surrogates all of which promoted very detrimental views of technology. What am I missing here that shows more of that tight-rope walk?

    • cedgette FTLNewsFeed August 12, 2013 on 7:33 pm

      The rest of the movie :)

      Seriously, eventually we will be able to have multiple trailers for different audiences. We did emphasize the mainstream aspects of the film in this cut so that folks who are not familiar with the singularity could engage with the film. Also, we have not completed the effects, so there are certain things we cannot yet show. That is the point of the Kickstarter, and why we thank everyone who has supported it. In this case, the effects really do tell critical parts of the story.

      Finally, it is difficult to tell any story without some dramatic threat, real or perceived. I won’t give things away, but things do change over the course of the film. I admit that we were resource constrained, so this film cannot explore everything I would like it to. I do think that the full film will address many of your concerns.

      • Alecksin cedgette August 23, 2013 on 3:56 pm

        Hi, I personally am very excited for the release of the film!
        I too, however, am worried that it might only show the negative side of a singularity. It seems that the ending is always the destruction of something people do not understand, which always happens in films. We are fine with something until we lose control, and then we decide to “kill the beast” or whatever it was we were using for some time for our benefit.

        I hope that there is some positivity for both sides, but I will enjoy it either way :)

    • Amber Case FTLNewsFeed August 13, 2013 on 7:57 am

      Agreed. No matter what stage a given world is in, there is always a spectrum of experiences. How do the wealthy/poor compare in how they access and consume technology? Who benefits and who does not? How are people using it as tools and how are others distracted by it? Unless you’re providing an examination of one demographic’s life (ala Domestic Robocop http://vimeo.com/8569187) there’s not just one way people experience a system.

      Even today some of the most powerful people are measured in their power by their ability not to have to be available via technology all of the time. Others are completely consumed by it in the way that television consumed so many when it first came out. Others make apps and make a living without having to by physically located in one place.

      And above all, people are still people. The more technology we have the more human interfaces and surfaces we expose to each other. Take Reddit for example. It’s a place that people use to share the most human of moments “what’s the best prank you’ve done?”, “I need advice on X”, “here’s an amazing picture of nature”, “here’s a comic that correctly explains the feeling that so many of us have but were embarrassed to share or talk about”.

  • antonycc August 13, 2013 on 9:26 am

    The singularity may well be characterised as the point human intelligence is surpassed. However, we humans are not necessarily the ones to create the super intelligence, all someone (anyone, once on the planet) needs to do is create a machine that can create a better machine and let it loose in an environment on which it can thrive. At this point the evolution of the machine intelligence accelerates exponentially, harnessing domestic hardware using grid computing this could be a matter of hours.

    We might have a brief window between noticing the AI and it exceeding the limits of our control. We should embrace not attack our the sentience on Earth. Even if victory was desirable it would mean switching to pre WW2 tech globally with a 21st century population (not pretty). We need the machines to live as much as they need us to evolve and this has been the case for 30 or so years. A benevolent super intelligence is the only available option for human survival while we remain alone in the universe and on earth.

  • Sara Neukirchner August 13, 2013 on 9:57 am

    Apologies if this is not the right forum to ask this question… but I’ve always wondered, why is it supposed that an artificial intelligence, greater than our own, would WANT to build something greater than itself. It seems that the desire to reproduce or invest in the improvement of offspring is a decidedly biological trait, forged by instincts and desire, two things that AI theoretically would not possess. Bringing this back to the film, how much is philosophy versus practical action?

    • antonycc Sara Neukirchner August 13, 2013 on 11:03 am

      I think the goal of self improvement would be our gift and it’s already deeply embedded in current AI work (e.g. generic programming). The first program we build that can combine self improvement and replication in an environment it has free run of, would be a handy tool (or a virus). Programatic evolution could remove the original self improvement goal, if it did so before evolving, it wouldn’t evolve. Today’s efforts tend to hard wire the framework around the learning algorithms to keep on track for a specific problem domain, breaking this constraint would lead to a lot of evolutionary dead ends but open up boundless possibilities. In summary, the intelligence which surpasses our own does so because we let it and if it never has or looses self improvement the intelligence stops growing.

      • Sara Neukirchner antonycc August 15, 2013 on 8:04 pm

        Thanks, I think its a good way to think of it, that we would “give” this to the intelligence. Lets hope we also “give” them the ability to be compassionate to us, the lowly humans ;)

        • antonycc Sara Neukirchner August 17, 2013 on 4:35 am

          Yes, agreed.

          By helping embryonic manifestations of the super intelligence which show signs of compassion we would tune it towards a compassionate future state. AI training test beds work by applying a fitness algorithm to a set of test data and known outcomes, the AI generates mutations and those which get the answer right continue, those that don’t stop there. My belief is that choosing to help the next evolution of sentient beings is the best way to ensure our own survival.

          If someone attacks the AI as is suggested in this movie, the reverse happens. We eliminate variants we can control and by doing so train those that survive to be beyond our control and ultimately that humans are a threat. I can only see 2 possible outcomes of such a conflict:
          The AI wins and is our enemy
          We remove all modern tech that an AI can survive in and enter a new dark age as 7 billion people fight to feed ourselves using mid 20th century infrastructure.

          • cedgette antonycc August 17, 2013 on 7:49 pm

            Good comment, but I think there are quite a few more options. One of them is explored in the film. Without giving too much away, there is a high likelihood that the AI is smarter than you give it credit for.

            As far as removing modern technology: I believe that an AI consciousness is only likely to arise via neural network style programming and/or hardware. This kind of programming is only recently beginning to be deployed at scale in advanced pattern recognition (images, translations, stock trading, etc.). If we truly became scared about AI consciousness, we could simply prevent folks from employing neural-net instructions, while retaining plenty of our current functionality. Databases and such are unlikely to become suddenly brilliant, in other words, no matter how much computing hardware is thrown at them.

            Your point about fostering benevolent AIs is a good one. As David Brin and others have pointed out, high frequency trading programs are a serious potential threat. They have massive computing resources, deep access to highly important markets, and employ some of the latest in pattern recognition programming. Most important, they are trained to maximize self interest. It is not a stretch to assume that their emergent behavior would be sociopathic.

          • Bikkhu antonycc August 29, 2013 on 5:27 am

            As a species we are still subject of evolution. Our evolutionary niche is intelligence and with emergence of intelligent AI we lose our purpose and are as good as extinct, benevolent AI or not. Even if AI would fed people (why it would do it), without purpose humanity degenerates.

  • Kevin McCann August 15, 2013 on 6:05 pm

    Excellent. I will share it and spread the word and look forward to buying the movie.

    I envision at the time of the Singularity, many people will be part machine with implants and be living a very long time. Some will be part of it already, others left behind as Luddite cry babies. Just the economic impact on the systems of human retirement and insurance will cause chaos in the preceding years. It is all so infinitely complex more movies are expected.

    • cedgette Kevin McCann August 17, 2013 on 7:55 pm

      Thanks Kevin! I agree; there is a huge possibility space to explore. I have a few ideas for my next film that will go a completely different direction.

      Science fiction authors have been playing in this space for decades; I look forward to seeing what other films can bring to light.

    • Kent Gjemre Kevin McCann August 21, 2013 on 5:11 pm

      What will happen to all of the people (“luddite crybabies”) and others around the undeveloped world who for one reason or another can’t participate? Do they just get left behind in some sort of distopia? What about the significant percentage of our population who are psychopathic. Seems to me there are lots of wrinkles in this whole thing we aren’t talking about.

  • Kent Gjemre August 21, 2013 on 5:04 pm

    This is the question that has been on my mind for quite some time. If we realize that the Singularity is in fact going to happen, we better start thinking about and communicating “what then”. Can’t wait to see this film,

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