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The Singularity Is Near: The Movie — Sneak Preview. It’s Awesome!

There were many moments of high irony before we Sonoma Film Festival attendees got to preview a somewhat unfinished version of The Singularity is Near: The Movie — based on the Ray Kurzweil book of the same name. The lights went down, the anticipation rose and we waited in the dark… and waited… with various people shouting mildly snarky comments. Mine was: "John Cage’s version of the Singularity." A computer crash was announced. While we worried about crashing cities full of uploaded minds after the singularity, Ray Kurzweil got back on stage (he had earlier introduced the film) and good-naturedly reassured us that the technology was getting better. A couple of minutes later, the movie started.

The Singularity is Near. Photo: sonomafilmfest.wordpress.com/The Singularity Is Near: The Movie does exactly what Ray Kurzweil set out to do. It’s a movie version of the book, with two running through lines. In documentary style, we have Ray discussing his ideas about the Singularity, with commentators variously supporting or refuting or worrying about his ideas. With Bill McKibben in the role of the friendly flat out opponent; Bill Joy playing the reasonable but worried man; and Mitch Kapor doubting the technological possibilities — they are all worked into the weave to (at least) let us know that not everybody believes that a) The Singularity is Coming and b) It’s going to work out well. K. Eric Drexler, MIT roboticist Cynthia Breazeal, desktop manufacturing guru Neil Gershenfeld and many many more are woven in to support the idea — and the more hopeful potentials — of accelerating change leading to radical alterations in life (itself).

The value added here for those h+ types already familiar with this discourse includes the clarity and concise expression of the ideas presented in Ray’s doorstopper sized book, and lots of very groovy, trippy, and playful graphics (including an apparent parody of the opening of Fringe.)

And then there’s the integration of a fictional narrative into the whole thing.

The story revolves around Ramona, Kurzweil’s alter ego and virtual/AI persona. This is the same Ramona who is interviewed throughout The Singularity Is Near book, where her role is to tell us what life is like at various points in time in the future. To some extent, she plays that same role here, but she also supplies some drama. And while the acting here will not win any academy awards, Ramona is put into several perilous situations and — one of them, at least — is rather affecting. (I’m not going to give anything away, except to say that there’s a courtroom scene, and you’ll find yourself rooting for her.) There are some funny elements too, including a very direct nod at The Matrix.

Ultimately, like the book, The Singularity Is Near: The Movie is an advocacy/teaching film. I wouldn’t count on cinema critics to find in it a glorious work of art. But it’s a total blast to sit through (even with Tony Robbins and Alan Dershowitz) and it’s definitely going to get around and blow minds, spark debate, thought and study. Singularitarians will want to show this to friends and family, and even for those who don’t believe in the singularity but support transhumanist ideas, there’s a whole lot about nanotech, biotech and AI to tweak interest and excitement.

I can’t wait to see the final version.

8 Comments

  1. So when do us mere mortals get to see the movie. The website still has 2010 as the release date.

  2. When will the film reach the East Coast? I can’t wait to see it! Will it go right to DVD or only in the theater?

    Thank you

  3. The film is still being tweaked, so I don’t believe there’s a release date yet.  I’d keep an eye on the site, linked to in the above piece.

    R.U.

  4. Hi R.U.,

    We met briefly outside the theater after the premiere. It was a pleasure to meet you in person.

    Love your write-up here. I also enjoyed the film – especially the interviews. However, I would have liked the focus to be more on the interviews and a little less on the B-Plot.

    As I just commented on Singularity Hub, I would have liked it to be more like The Secret and less like What The Bleep.

    In What The Bleep, there was a single, cohesive B-Plot, which is what The Singularity Is Near did.

    In The Secret, the focus was on the interviews, with a smattering of scenes to illustrate the principles being talked about, but no plot per se.

    As it stands, I’ll certainly give the DVD to all the people I’d like to introduce the concept of the singularity to, but I’ll give them a caveat about the B-Plot first: It’s just there to dramatize some of the points being made, not to say that this *is* what the future will look like.

    Also, I would have liked to see more footage of some of the advances in AI, nanotech, and robotics to show visually that the singularity is near and getting nearer all the time.

  5. I had hoped it would be like a repeating version of Dinosaur Comics.

  6. Yes I agree that hoped it would be like Dinosaur Comics.

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  7. The Singularity Is Near movie … still waiting for that daam Transcendent Man doco to come out dvd…all we got was the daam trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntY01qoIdus over a year ago…all he talks about is screwing up man kind with AI machines smarter than humans…what else Ray…what else…

  8. Loved the book and tell everyone I can about it. Looking forward to seeing the movie version when it’s released here on the East Coast.

    I’m glad to hear that it’s enjoyable and not just a “dumbed down” version of the text version.