“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.