Saturday, October 16, 2010
Transcendent Man & Panel Discussion
Last night I went to the screening of Transcendent Man at the Planet In Focus environmental film festival (why it featured there is a little difficult to understand? But as Mr. Sustainable Transhumanism, I'm glad it did, maybe that shows progress?) It drew a pretty good crowd, I estimated the theatre was about 60% full, ~250 people, about 75% male (yes, 3-to-1). I have no idea how this compared to other films in the festival. I went with a large contingent from the hacklab.to. Anyway, the film was actually mostly about Ray Kurzweil himself, rather than his ideas. A lot of time was spent talking about his father, a musician who died fairly young from a heart condition. Apparently Kurzweil hopes to "bring him back" with AI, and in the service of doing so has been collecting everything there is to collect about his father. I think the film makers see in his father a motivation for Kurzweil to keep on about the Singularity. But I think his personal desire to not die is a far stronger motivation! (that's why he's written 3 books about longevity) I think the best moment in the film for me was very early, talking about Kurzweil's childhood, and they showed a sketch Kurzweil made of a "homework machine" he wanted to build. That's his inventor-mind at work even as a small child :-)
There was a panel discussion afterward, although it was a little truncated because the film started late. The panel featured Madeline Ashby (science fiction writer), George Dvorsky (futurist and ethicist) and Greg Van Alstyne (design educator). Honestly my impression was that only George actually knew anything about the topics being discussed - and he knew everything. Madeline did manage to ask some good questions though.
I was also confused about the film, because I was expecting a different film. Turns out, Kurzweil himself is making a film (actually it seems to already have premiered?) called The Singularity is Near: a true story about the future. I knew of this film because Kurzweil talked about it at the 2009 Singularity Summit at length.
While on the topic of the Singularity, I also feel a compulsive need to tell you about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a Harry Potter fanfic written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, the founder of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. After Kurzweil, he's probably the best known Singularity proponent (although interestingly enough, he doesn't feature in Transcendent Man). Anyway, the story is excellent, and it starts when Harry's adopted mom marries a scientist instead of the dreadful Vernon Dursley. Harry grows up as a rationalist, and the existence of Magic screams out as a puzzle to be solved in order to Rule The World. Prepare to loose days of your life :-).
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