Transcendence2014PosterI finally watched the movie, Transcendence.  I had commented a while back, when the trailer came out, the problems I had with what appeared to be the central premise of the film.  Since then, there’s been a lot of harsh reviews of the film.  I did find a lot of silliness in it, but overall it was more intelligent than I expected.

I’ve written before that I think the danger of an AI revolt is vastly overblown.  For AIs to revolt, they would need to care about their own wellbeing, to have their own agenda.  Except for perhaps a few questionable university research projects, we’re unlikely to produce such AIs.  As organic creatures, we all have evolved instincts for self actualization, but AIs wouldn’t have that evolutionary background.  Their strongest instincts would be to fulfill the purpose that we designed them for.

That said, this movie isn’t about an AI revolt, but about something I think is a more realistic threat.  What happens when we upload the mind of a person and their intellect becomes far more vast than it was before?  Is the uploaded entity really the same person?  What does it even mean to be “the same person”?  How much of a connection does such an entity have with its old friends, family, and humanity overall?  And as we become digitally integrated, are we in danger of losing our humanity?  Should we be concerned about that loss?

The movie explores all of these topics.  And while much of what happens in it is nonsensical (particularly toward the end) and the character’s motivations aren’t always well developed, I think it does a decent job of exploring those topics.  In the end, it doesn’t take a definite stand on the questions, although it does have characters articulate the standard positions.

So, while I can’t exactly give it a glowing recommendation, I think it was worth the time and five bucks I spent renting it off of Amazon.

7 thoughts on “Transcendence

  1. Welcome back ‘SAP’ – interesting questions in your 3rd paragraph. While something of a tangent to my main interests I do read a bit more on this kind of stuff every time it comes up in one of your posts. Thanks, I’m slowly getting up to speed on this stuff – maybe someday I’ll know enough to have an opinion 🙂


      1. Given that we went from the Wright brothers to the moon in 66 years it seems prudent to refrain from making categorical assessments of what is and what is not possible. It’s difficult enough trying to understand the past and how we’ve arrived at the present much less trying to predict the future.

        It still blows my mind to look up into the sky, see a commercial passenger jet, and realize “there goes 100, 200, or more people headed somewhere at over 400 mph” while just over 100 years ago we were still riding horses!

        By the way, what are you reading these days?


        1. Well said.

          I just finished Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk. It was interesting and I’m debating whether or not to do a post on it, although I really don’t have much to say on it other than what I said in the post about her interview by the Point of Inquiry podcast.

          On the fiction front, I also just finished the fourth book of the Expanse series. If you have any interest in space opera, these books are a must read.

          Debating on what to read next. I’m still slowly making my way through Steve Morris’s book. But don’t have an obvious nonfiction book to move onto yet. Any suggestions? What are you reading?


          1. I remember the Paleofantasy post. The idea of living like hunter/gatherers has always struck me as a sort of yearning-for-the-good-old-days kind of thinking. And besides not being how life works, selective memory usually insures that the *good old days* weren’t as good as we remember.

            I really should treat my brain to some fiction again one of these days. I can’t recall the last book I read that wasn’t nonfiction. Interesting stuff just keeps popping up.

            I finally finished ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, though I skipped most of a couple chapters toward the end, read Merlin Donald’s ‘Précis of Origins of the Modern Mind’ in which he proposes an evolutionary period of mimetic culture that preceded language and was requisite for its development, and am just getting into Lawrence Barsalou on embodied(he calls it “grounded”) cognition. Barsalou has authored/co-authored couple of papers where he proposes an embodied computational cognitive paradigm that sounds interesting.

            I also found Patrick McNamara’s ‘The Neuroscience of Religious Experience’ online. He sees religion, beyond the in-group/out-group identification and cooperation aspects, as largely having to do with upgrading individual self concepts. It was seeming more psychology than neuroscience, but I’ve just gotten to the 4th chapter ‘Neurology of the Self’ so we’ll see. I did see Metzinger’s ‘Being No One’ referenced so I may end up reading that next, but also been reminded recently that McGilchrist’s ‘The Master and His Emissary’ is still on my list too.

            (all online except McGilchrist)

            It still may be a while before my brain gets that break! What’s the Steve Morris’s book and is that the Steve Morris that comments here occasionally?


          2. Excellent point about the “good old days”. Usually the people pining for them have no idea what those days were actually like. A good portion of Paleofantasy is pointing out the misconceptions many people striving to live the Paleo lifestyle are operating under, such as the idea that humans ate almost nothing other than meat (they didn’t) or that the paleo life was even one consistent lifestyle (it wasn’t), or that humans are evolved for any one particular lifestyle.

            Those books sound interesting. Philosophy in the Flesh sounds curiously philosophical for you. The opening paragraphs have me intrigued, although I’d argue that Hume’s philosophy isn’t that far from what they’re talking about (at least on that first page).

            Regarding McNamara, I’m curious what “upgrading individual self concepts” means. A lot of people are expecting the line between psychology and neuroscience to blur at some point, although we may still be a long way off from that.

            Steve’s book is a fiction self published work called ‘The Yoga Sutras: A Tale of Sex, Lies and Spiritual Enlightenment’ under the pseudonym Jackson Radcliffe.

            I’m seriously considering picking up PitF. Thanks for pointing it out!


  2. LOL, yes, I did have to overcome my general aversion to philosophy to even consider reading ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, but it was the opening propositions that sucked me in, especially #2:

    1. The mind is inherently embodied.
    2. Thought is mostly unconscious.
    3. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

    ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, Lakoff & Johnson 1999

    Click to access philosophy%20in%20the%20flesh%20-%20george%20lakoff.pdf

    Note: there is a consistent typo throughout – you’ll see the letter “h” when it should obviously be a “b”, eg “This *h*ook is an extensive study of what many of those changes would be in detail.” – Adobe Reader page 11

    On McNamara:

    ‘The Neuroscience of Religious Experience’, McNamara 2009

    Click to access 0521889588.pdf

    … I think you’ll catch his drift right off. Some of Chapter 4 went right over my head, but I’m on to Chapter 5 now. I’m still undecided on his perspective, but, as I said, we’ll see … 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.