Chapter 9 of Films from the Future: The Technology and Morality of Sci-Fi movies, read by author Andrew Maynard
In this episode: Transcendence
Visions of the Future | Technological Convergence | Enter the Neo-Luddites | Techno-Terrorism | Exponential Extrapolation | Make-believe in the Age of the Singularity
Transcendence is neither the greatest science fiction movie ever made, nor Jonny Depp’s finest hour as an actor. And yet I have a soft spot for the film.
It’s partly because I’ve watched the film more times than I can remember as I teach from it in class — a type of movie Stockholm Syndrome I suspect. But for all it’s labored story telling and fantasyland technology, I rather like the way the movie creates an effective starting point for exploring the idea of a technological singularity, along with sometimes violent reactions against innovations that transform the world faster than we are comfortable with.
The portrayal of advanced technologies in Transcendence is most definitely more fantasy than reality. No future exists within this universe where nanotechnology, for instance, enables “nanobots” to recreate everything from solar cells to human flesh and blood in the blink of an eye. And yet beyond the fantasy, the idea of out of control tech innovation challenging the very essence of what it is to be human resonates deeply in today’s society.
This is a tension that’s developed well in Transcendence. And it comes with a couple of twists — which I won’t give away here, but which are captured in the podcast.
At the end of the day, the movie reminds us that the more powerful our technologies are, the more important it is for us to collectively take their potential impacts on society seriously, and work together to find positive ways forward.
It also reminds us that things are rarely simple when it comes to tech and the future, and that what we often think the the consequences of powerful technologies migh be, rarely are.
About Films from the Future: I started writing Films from the Future in 2017. The intent was to explore the deeply complex landscape around emerging technologies, the future, and socially responsible innovation, in a way that would be accessible to most readers, and at the same time provide nuanced and important insights that weren’t available anywhere else.
One of the challenges with most books about tech and the future is that they take a polarized stance — we’re either all going to die unless we do something different, or technology is going to save the world. These sell — people love reading about extremes. But they’re not that helpful when it comes to navigating a deeply complex tech innovation landscape where there few right and wrong answers, where it’s important to weave together insights from many different areas of expertise — including the arts and humanities, and where dialogue and discussion are far more important than preaching.
And so I set out to write about emerging and converging technologies in as inclusive and accessible a way as I knew how, with the aim of taking readers on a compelling journey into the future where their thoughts and ideas were just as important as mine.
The result was a book that uses movies as a way to open up conversations about what responsible innovation means in a world that’s changing faster than ever before, and where new technologies are transforming how we think about the future and what it holds.
Of course some of the technologies it covers have moved on since I started writing the book. But at the end of the day this is not a book about science fiction movies, or about specific technologies, but about how all of us can think differently about our roles in ensuring the future we’re building is better than the past we leave behind.
I hope you enjoy these recordings of me narrating it — this is a book that reflects my voice quite deeply in the writing, and so it only made sense for me to one day actually read it aloud!
For more information on the book, visit https://andrewmaynard.net/films-from-the-future/