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Cyborgs--The Wave of the Future: 'The Transcendent Man' Screens Next Week

Ray Kurzweil and Barry Ptolemy (Photo by Steve Boxall)
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By Katherine Peach/Special to LAistIt’s those times when all meat starts to taste like chicken and the rum and Coke you ordered tastes like Froot Loops, that the notion there is just a glitch in the Matrix starts to seem like a possibility. The sci-fi scenario of robots running amok is not just a thing for the books, according to the theory of singularity, and a documentary called the Transcendent Man.

Transcendent Man explores the life and ideas of Ray Kurzweil the inventor of the first CCD flat bed scanner and the author behind the best-selling book, The Singularity is Near. He has been compared to Nostradamus for his predictions of technology and the future or likened to a lunatic.

The theory of singularity doesn’t merely blur the line between human and machine, but incites the complete unity of the two that will create superintelligent, immortal beings. To a more ominous point, technology will advance at such a rapid rate that humans will have no choice but to merge with the same advanced technology we have created.

By the 2030s, he furthers there will be no clear difference between man and machine intelligence. Death will be a distant memory.

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Fifteen years seem outrageous? If we look back to a recent viral video it shows the Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel scoffing over the newfangled thing called the internet on the Today Show. The footage is only from 1994.

Growing up in the in the same era of thinking giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Kurzweil has had the foresight of many today’s most treasured gadgets. He predicted that devices will go wireless, broadband internet access will be available almost everywhere and that documents will be embedded moving images and sounds, aka YouTube. He not only saw that laptops will outsell desktop computers, but he saw that displays would take on the high-resolution and readability of e-readers, such as the Kindle or iPad.

The documentary film follows Kurzweil for two years across five different countries. Director Barry Ptolemy follows as he explores the social and philosophical ramifications of these technological changes, and the potential threat they pose to the human civilization. He poses not a question of if, but when aging and illness will be eliminated.

“Everyone has a different fear and don’t understand their bodies,” Ptolemy said. “Bodies are machines and they work fairly well, but they do break down. I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Ptolemy sought after the inventor start the project after reading Kurzweil’s work and becoming a believer. Traveling with a man he called “an American icon,” he filmed while the technology prophet converted the likes of William Shatner and Stevie Wonder, and reaches the breaking point with evangelicals.

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In the film Kurzweil is not only persuasive, but compelling as he speaks of how he is extending his life span or how he plans to bring his father back to life.

“Ray didn’t invent the idea of singularity, but he articulated it better than any human that ever lived,” Ptolemy said.

Described by Forbes magazine as “the ultimate thinking machine,” critics argue that the dangers of the singularity far outweigh the benefits. Pointing out the apocalyptic implications that once machines achieve consciousness, we may not be able to control them. Will man welcome the dawn of the machine only to be replaced?

The film argues the real threat is the governments that will wage wars in the attempt to control these resources. Technology will be able to eliminate hunger through advances in food production at the molecular level and poverty will be eliminated.

Following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film has viewed to sold out audiences and attracted critical acclaim. The director described no surprise about the welcome wagon, saying there is not way to deny that this is truth, not theory.

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“Look at Egypt— you can’t stop the flow of information,” Ptolemy said. “Truth is the marathon runner.”

Transcendent Man screens February 16 and 17 at the Laemmle’s Royal Theater. The screening will be followed on Thursday with a Q&A will director Ptolemy and Kurzweil himself. More information and screening tickets available here.