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Film Review: Transcendent Man & Reflections on San Francisco Premiere

Apr. 16, 2011 10:31 AM ET
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Ray Kurzweil in Transcendent Man

On Thursday evening I attended a showing of the film Transcendent Man at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts. The evening included a pre and post-film talk/Q&A with the film's star,Ray Kurzweil, and the director, Barry Ptolemy. Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation was also on hand to moderate.

Here are my thoughts on the film:
  • The film is well made and provides a very up-close and personal look at inventor, scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil, including a tour to Ray's home, his 200 vitamins-a-day regimen, and a moving visit to his father's grave.
  • In terms of the content level it aims for a more general audience, making the film accessible to non-science types. You'll see a few graphs but you won't find any math equations or overly technical jargon in the movie.
  • The film provides an intimate look at some of Ray's and the Singularity's more interesting proponents and critics, such as Kevin Kelly (founder and 'Chief Maverick' of Wired) and Dr. William Hurlbut, Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University (who was in attendance).
  • If you're someone who is already familiar with Ray's exponential technology development forecasts and his ideas about the Singularity you might find some of the the content less fresh, even repetitive. However, if you're a fan the I think you will still really enjoy the film.
  • One criticism I have of the film and Ray is that while there is ample mention of the many predictions Ray has been right about (e.g., predicting in the early 1980s that a computer would beat the best human chess player by the late 1990s), there was no mention of Ray's wrong predictions. Predicting the fall of the Soviet Union and other happenings is impressive, but it would be even more impressive if I knew more about Ray's overall track record.
  • Another question I have is the potential bias Ray brings to his forecasting. It cannot be overlooked that Ray is projecting that radical life extension will arrive within his expected lifetime. How much does Ray's self-optimism factor into this timing forecast?
And some thoughts on the overall event and what it's like to meet Ray:
  • The Palace of Fine Arts event (not surprisingly) attracted an eclectic, rather geeky crowd. In terms of demographics, largely caucasian with a wide age distribution.
  • What was surprising was that unlike the previous showings in London, New York, LA, etc. the San Francisco event (the last in the tour) did not come close to selling-out. This is particularly surprising as the San Francisco Bay Area is arguably Ground Zero for the Singularity movement. Whether this was due to the fact that there was a previous San Jose showing in February, or that the film has been available on iTunes for awhile now, is unclear. Back-to-back showings in LA both sold out.
  • A couple interesting points made during the Q&A: 
    • Ray stated that there is a mistaken perception that technological progress is occurring much faster with hardware than software.
    • The cost of solar power is quickly approaching the cost of fossil fuels.
    • Ray stated that technology is a "doubled-edged sword" and does not dismiss potential dangers to the human race to advancements in technology.
    • Ray says he reads all his email and tends to make decisions about big things (like Barry's movie proposal) quickly and agonize over small things, like where to eat lunch.
  • Ray was very generous with his time throughout the evening. There was a pre-movie meet and greet where I was able to speak with Ray in person. I confessed to Ray that I haven't been as disciplined in following the diet advice in his excellent health book, Fantastic Voyage, as I would like. 
  • Ray is one of the most even-keeled people I've ever met. He is also is very diplomatic and kind with his responses during the Q&A.
Overall, I highly recommend seeing Transcendent Man. The film is currently available for viewing on iTunes, online here, and will be coming soon to DVD and other outlets. 
For more from me on life extension, the Singularity and Ray click here.

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