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Film Review: Ray Kurzweil, a Transcendent Man

A Transcendent ManThe concepts underlying a new documentary called Transcendent Man are known to sci-fi fans: artificial intelligence, nanobots, machine-against-man global wars, techno-imbibed immortality, and so on. What distinguishes this documentary is that Transcendent Man posits that all these concepts are only a 10 or 20 years away from actually occurring.

Scientific American writes: Against a kaleidescope of cosmic birth and destruction, and newsreel-style stills from his personal history, the celebrated inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil sits in silhouette, contemplating death. He broods over mortality’s toll in waste and pain, and the hopelessness and loss that people must experience in their last moments of life. “It’s such a profoundly sad, lonely feeling that I really can’t bear it,” he admits.

Then, cheerfully, he adds, “So I go back to thinking about how I’m not going to die.”

From the review by John Rennie | Scientific American

That opening sequence of Transcendent Man, the new documentary by director Barry Ptolemy that profiles Kurzweil and his ideas, neatly distills the sometimes jarring predictions and preoccupations of its subject. The film is about Kurzweil’s belief that within just a few decades technology will allow human beings to transcend the physical and intellectual limitations of their biology. It also paints Kurzweil as a brilliant man who has personally always risen above the skepticism and misunderstanding of his doubters.

Ray Kurzweil - Never Say DieKurzweil has always been propelled by powerful ideas, as the film makes clear. A recipient of the National Medal of Technology, he has been a pioneer in optical character recognition, speech recognition and other technologies, starting with his invention of a computer that composed music when he was just 17. His study of innovation in the 1980s convinced him that what he calls a “law of accelerating returns” governs progress, meaning that technology advances at an exponentially increasing rate. (The doubling of transistors on computer chips every 18 months, widely known as Moore’s law, is one example of such an increase.)

Cleverly edited and entertaining, Transcendent Man is unfortunately also too starstruck and reverent toward Kurzweil for its own good. It wants in part to be a movie about ideas, but frustratingly, it refuses to truly challenge any of those it raises—whether supportive or critical of him. Given that the film’s theme is the salvation or destruction of the human race, its lack of commitment to a perspective other than innocent wonder is unsatisfying.

>> Read the full review at Scientific American

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