This week Transcendent Man, a documentary about the life and vision of singularity evangelist Ray Kurzweil, is enjoying its world premier at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie offers the most comprehensive look ever at arguably the world’s most ardent and controversial proponent of life extension and the coming merger between man and machine. Loved by many, feared and loathed by others, Kurzweil is certainly a character to watch. In this post Singularity Hub is proud to present our interview with Barry Ptolemy, the filmmaker behind Transcendent Man.
Transcendent Man is a major professional work, the culmination of Ptolemy’s more than 2 year effort to follow Kurzweil around the world, including interviews with Kurzweil’s closest friends and family and countless discussions directly with the man himself. The trailer for the movie is a must see if you haven’t seen it yet. Although the movie is premiering at Tribeca this week, we won’t have word on when/how the movie will be available to the public as this will be decided based on the movie’s success at the Festival.
Singularity Hub: Can you tell us in your own words briefly what’s this whole movie about?
Barry Ptolemy: Transcendent Man is a movie about the life and ideas of Ray Kurzwiel, and you know, although you and I might understand what his ideas are, what we’re really doing here with cinema is we’re gonna reveal for the first time to the world we hope, um, what’s about to take place….and what Ray talks about which is the merging of man and machine and what the implications are for our civilization. When you understand the rammifications of that it will change the nature of your life I believe, or thats what we hope, thats in a nutshell what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ve talked about how the film is one man’s quest to reveal our destiny and I think Ray is playing that part of, you know, for lack of a better word, an evangelical person going out and getting his message out to the world. He’s compelled to do it, we don’t know exactly why, but we try to get into that in the film where we reveal for example his late father and his passing and how that affects Ray’s judgement and his decisions.
Singularity Hub: How did you go about contacting Kurzweil and getting him to want to do this movie with you?
Barry Ptolemy: Well he was very rather easy to contact. As huge as Ray is, he’s actually very forward about, for example, his email address…he puts it right there in his book. So he was accessible and we contacted him and he got back to us and we setup a phone call with him within a week and we introduced ourselves and told him what our ideas were and he thought they sounded good. He wanted to meet us in person so we met him a week later and things moved very quickly. At the same time we had some financing coming together for the film idea which we had been developing for a year, but when we got Ray onboard things really got into high gear and at the same time we were meeting with him almost to the day we had completely gotten our financing in to place so that we could start shooting in the next month and we started almost immediately. We met with him in San Francisco and he seemed to take to us, and obviously we liked him, and we agreed to make the film. He agreed to give us complete and total access which was one of the things we really asked of him, is to make sure that we could really do this properly and you know he obliged us by letting us talk to him in plains and trains, on sidewalks, or alleyways, and hotel rooms, and he took us into his room. We could interview his mother, or his wife, his children, and all his colleagues and all his peers. So he really allowed us an amazing amount of access.
Singularity Hub: So can you tell me a little about how much content and information you were able to acquire during this whole process?
Barry Ptolemy: So over 2 years we accumulated over 200 hours with Ray in every conceiveable location, you know whether its a train, or a plane, or the back of a towncar or a sidewalk or an alleyway, or a restaurant or a hotel room or in his house. We also interviewed about 70 luminaries of different disciplines, some of the greatest minds from all over the world, from scientists, to those in politics and the arts, and so we did accumulate a couple hundred hours of footage and of course that’s been reduced down to just a little over an hour…right now the film is running at about 85 minutes, so its quite a reduction down to that. Just that in and of itself I feel is an achievement. Its equivalent of taking something like a room of full of rock and just whittling it down to like the size of a broomstick, so uh, but we were able to do it.
Singularity Hub: So after having read Ray Kurzweil’s book and also having basically been with him and documented his life for several years now, I’m curious how this has impacted your lifestyle in terms of health and all sorts of other ways.
Barry Ptolemy: That’s a good question Keith. I asked Ray once, obviously one of the thousands of questions I asked him over the last few years, “is life more valuable as we approach the singularity.” Meaning that if you had a finite time in which to live your life is there less value in that life if their wasn’t this expansion of mind and soul that would come after that. In other words, if we are on the onset of expanding ourselves by billions and trillions of times should we not now obviously be very careful with our health? And of course the answer is yes, I mean he’s a very strong advocate of using whatever technology we have currently to help our health process so if we know today that certain things are bad for us obvously we shouldn’t consume them. We know smoking’s not good for us, we should wear our seatbelt. Ray’s for example very stringent on how his driving goes. If you drive with Ray he won’t want you to tailgate for example. That’s one of his golden rules. Don’t tailgate when you’re driving Ray Kurzweil around (laughing). So he takes precautions like that and so you do start to get into a mode where you realize that life is very precious, life is always precious, but if you start to think about it in terms of the singularity, what can come beyond it, what will happen to us and our families, you want to be around to experience it. And so you start to think like that.
Singularity Hub: So what do you think, singularity in the next 50 years, yes or no?
Barry Ptolemy: Oh, absolutely. And if I can extend my answer beyond just yes or no, I think Ray is conservative in his estimates. You know we’ve talked about this a lot. I think that we’re 30 years under from a true singularity happening you know, a historical singularity
Singularity Hub: Very cool