Transcendent Man: Thoughts on the New Documentary About Kurzweil

by Michael Nuschke
(Nova Scotia, Canada)

Thoughts on new documentary on Kurzweil Transcendent Man

I watched the Transcendent Man documentary today. While I enjoyed it, I tried to also think from the view of someone very new to the concepts around the Singularity. (just keep in mind I am no professional movie critic).

Here are my thoughts;
- The movie presents the gist of most of the themes of Kurzweil’s book The Singularity Is Near in an entertaining way, along with some interesting commentary by supporters and detractors.
- Interwoven throughout is a lot of footage concerning Kurzweil’s relationship with his father. So the movie is both about his ideas, and also delves into the man’s personal life – as I suppose a documentary should.
- While interesting, the details of Kurzweil’s piano playing and nostalgia for his father etc. pales to the implications of the Singularity thesis itself. - I think a newcomer could get easily distracted by some of Kurzweil’s quirky personality traits and miss the life-changing implications of his research and ideas.

Critics of Kurzweil’s version of the Singularity took one or more of these positions:
- The idea that we will be able to download our brain/mind is flawed – he (RK) does not understand the complexities of human biology.
- While some of the predictions may come true, his timing is way off i.e. by perhaps hundreds of years. Kurzweil is biased in his thinking and the “Immortal by the Year 2045″ prediction is a function of his fear of death and a personal ‘need’ for a solution in his lifetime. i.e. wishful thinking.
- The optimistic view that super-human technology will ease us into a utopia is off. There does not seem to be any way to assure that such future artificial intelligence will be friendly to humanity (the Terminator theme)
- There is a good chance mankind won’t make it another 20 years.
- Given the radical changes ahead, we just can’t conceive of the implications.

Several of the objections or alternative views are credible, but not thoroughly developed. For those interested, there is a big section in The Singularity is Near that outlines and responds to the most common criticisms/objections. There have also been other point-counter point critiques in the media where, in my opinion, Kurzweil’s ideas hold up strongly.

My take is that Kurweil is very smart and has spent decades studying and projecting the exponential changes we are now seeing. Few others have delved so deeply. Changes in genetics/biotechnology/technology/artificial intelligence/nanotechnology are coming fast and heavy. Kurzweil, for the most part, has seen his predictions come to be. His views seem very credible to me and need to be taken seriously.

At the same time, given the extreme nature of the changes we are now starting to see, alternative outcomes are likely too. Imagine driving at a very low speed, and dropping your coffee on your lap. Then imagine the same scenario if you are travelling at over 110 kmh. At a slow speed, a little reaction may be unnoticable to the direction of the car, while at high speeds, a little shift of the wheel can have dramatic impact.

My point is, in a world of ever expanding radical changes, making accurate predictions will get trickier.

One thing we can count on is that much more change is coming soon. Much more creative destruction is coming soon. Many more challenges to our accepted notions are coming soon.

Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your views and thoughts on this.

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Great Review Michael
by: Socrates

I like your review Michael. That is why I have tweeted it @singularityblog, and added it to the RSS feed of This way many other readers will get the opportunity to read it and agree or disagree with you.

Thanks for the time and effort you put into it!

Forest For The Trees
by: Andy

Great job on the blog Michael. Good to hear views from someone who is simply watching events unfold rather than being highly involved in a particular field. I think a lot can be said regarding 'cant see the forest for the trees notion' when people working in specific fields make comment about the future. Its only natural that these peoples views are going to often be unbalanced and often times eccentric. Just watch any old doco of 'experts' making their future predictions to see what I mean. For that matter watch this NEW doco of 'experts' making their future predictions.;_id=SA_CAT_TECH_20110301

Nice review
by: Nathan Wosnack

Thank you for this review, Michael. I've wanted to watch Transcendent Man for nearly 6 months and I finally had my opportunity last night! It was certainly well worth the wait, and I recommend everyone sees it. If there is a showing in your city, consider going to it. Or buying the movie from the Transcendent Man web-site.

Highlights of the movie...

One of the touching moments of the movie:

(At the beach, recalling his father and life, Ray Kurzweil with tears in his eyes as the wind blows against his face)

Barry Ptolemy: "What are you thinking about, Ray?"

Ray: "Well I was thinking about how much computation is represented by the ocean. I mean it's all these water molecules interacting with each other. That's computation. It's quite beautiful. And I've always found it very soothing. And that's really what computation's all about. The capture of these transcendent moments of our consciousness."

Another great quote from the movie:

"The tragedy of illness and death has to be experienced personally to really appreciate its significance. Losing someone you love is an unbearable happenstance. That's ultimately the reason you'd bring someone back." - Ray Kurzweil

- Nathan

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