Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Johnny Depp as Will Caster in Alcon Entertainment’s sci-fi thriller Transcendence, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Image by Peter Mountain

This is one movie I really want to see! 

Quite often of late, I have posted about my interest in brains. No, I am not a zombie! Neither am I a neuro-scientist nor a computer scientist. I am just a curious layperson fascinated by what it means to be awake and alive, and the role our brains play in achieving a fulfilling life and developing a notable character.

Cognitive and Emotional Intelligences are two ways we measure types of intelligence in human brains. As I understand it, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is about emulating human cognitive and emotional intelligence in man-made brains. Machine learning and the Turing Test are related endeavors on the quest to make a computer "brain" that is indistinguishable from a human brain in terms of responses to circumstances. But my interest goes beyond making smarter computers and hastening (or forestalling!) the Singularity.

I want to know how a brain works, yes, but I also want to know if memories can be transplanted. I want to have a better understanding of consciousness. I want to know what happens to memories when a person dies. Sure, there are the electronic touches left in blog posts and Facebook pages, but I am not referring to visiting evidence left behind to revive our memories of a departed loved one. I am referring to the dead person's actual memories. How long are memories stored in the brain? Can the memories of a person be stored, accessed, and recovered? Are people just like other animals but with better brains? Or is there something more, something beyond biology, that distinguishes mankind from monkeys and machines?

"Transcendence" is a movie that promises to explore both the technical and moral implications of technology's advance to the melding of biological and material intelligence.

Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Science Friday, recently discussed this film on his Science Goes to the Movies
segment. Read the full transcript, or listen to a podcast HERE.

"In Wally Pfister’s new thriller "Transcendence,' Johnny Depp plays an A.I. researcher whose consciousness is uploaded to the Internet…with disastrous consequences. This week in 'Science Goes to the Movies,' our scientist-film critics Stuart Russell and Christof Koch explain what it would take to 'upload' a mind, and what really worries them about strong A.I."

Wikipedia and IMDb have these sorts of pertinent facts to add about the movie

"'Transcendence' is a 2014 English-language U.S.-Chinese co-production science fiction film directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut, and written by Jack Paglan. The film stars Johnny DeppRebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Paul Bettany, and Morgan Freeman. Pfister's usual collaborator, Christopher Nolan, served as executive producer on the project. At one time, Paglan's screenplay was part of what is known as the Black List, a list of popular but unproduced screenplays in Hollywood."

And of course, fans of the Dark Knight trilogy will recognize Christopher Nolan's name. Just as a refresher, and by way of heightening the anticipation for seeing 'Transcendence,' here's a little Christopher Nolan recap for you:

And as if that were not enough to thoroughly whet your whistle, I am also captivated by this quote from Nolan's Wiki page:
"Nolan's films are rooted in philosophical and sociological concepts and ideas, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. Experimentation with metafictive elements, temporal shifts, solipsistic perspectives, nonlinear storytelling and the analogous relationship between the visual language and narrative elements, permeate his entire body of work." 

Those two sentences capture the essence of Christopher Nolan's work quite well, except the second sentence should read, "Experimentation ... permeates." I think I will log on as a Wiki-editor and fix that error, thus extending the frontier of human knowledge by an amount, epsilon. And as my First Year Advisor, Dr Ruth Maurer (Walden's own Dr Ruth), used to say, epsilon can be very small.

But I digress. Back to the movie! To summarize, in "Transcendence" we have:
  • Jack Paglan's intriguing and once Black-Listed screenplay
  • which is brought to life with 
  • Nolan's backing as Executive Producer and Director-Coach to long time collaborator Wally Pfister 
  • and Johnny frickin Depp in the lead role and 
  • Science is on Trial. 

Must see!

Related posts:

Ted Williams has been cryogenically frozen
Skier and surgical intern was revived--3 whole hours after her clinical death
If a brain can be uploaded, what is the meaning of death?
The Immortal Brain
The Legacy Brain Foundation
Meet Your Mind: A Users Guide to the Science of Consciousness
Connecting Brains with Machines
Thinking about Thinking
Ray Kurzweil: "How to Create a Mind"