The trailer for an intriguing movie has just been released. Transcendence, which opens in April 2014, stars Johnny Depp, and is directed by Wally Pfister, long-time cameraman and collaborator for Chris Nolan, the director of Inception, and the hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy. As well as Depp, the strong cast includes Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara (House of Cards) and Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3).
This quote from the trailer explains why the movie is causing excitement among those who think that a conscious machine may be created within the next few decades.
“Imagine a machine with the full range of human emotion … Once online a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology. In a short time its analytical power will be greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as ‘The Singularity’. I call it ‘Transcendence’.”
The debate about artificial super-intelligence has not yet caught the public imagination. Maybe this movie will change that. Maybe it will even be a good film, striking a judicious balance between traditional Hollywood dystopia and wide-eyed Singularitarian naivety.
Depp plays a scientist who has found a way to upload his mind into a supercomputer. A group called Rift is convinced that this would place all humanity in jeopardy by unleashing a deadly artificial intelligence, and shoots him before he can achieve his goal. The attack is not fatal, and he goes ahead. Rift pursues him in his new silicon form, but he escapes by transferring his mind onto the internet. This is summed up in a snatch of dialogue which may well become iconic:
All this is in the trailer, so no plot spoilers here. Presumably there is an unexpected final twist. If the film is as good as the trailer suggests, and also effective at kick-starting a debate about ASI, I will even forgive them for stealing a sizeable chunk of the plot for my novel!