I did not read the book "The Singularity is Near" (2005) but i saw the film
"The Singularity is Near" (2010), and this is a review of the film.
The film is absolutely stimulating, regardless how you feel about A.I.,
avatars, nanotechnology, etc.
The film opens in 2045. Ramona is an artificial intelligence. Intelligence can be biological or nonbiological. The nonbiological version is not non-human: it is post-human.
Back to our age, the point is made that change is accelerating. Humans just cannot keep up with the pace of change that their technology has caused. Humans need to augment their intelligence. And that's of course also technology. It's technology to keep up with technological change. The ultimate goal is to remove the distinction between technology and "I", Avatars can coexist with humans and help humans enjoy life in a world run by an accelerating incomprehensible technology. As they become more and more realistic and more intelligent, these virtual people can be companions, advisors and even lovers. As an example, we are introduced to Kismet, a robot built in the late 1990s at the MIT by Cynthia Breazeal that feels human. Then Minsky tells us that emotional states are just mechanical states. Then we see the artificial intelligence, Ramona, tell a psychologist how she became what she is: one day a boy (Ray Kurzweil as a child) made a still drawing, and that was her infancy...
Pioneering futurist Alvin Toffler, who wrote "Future Shock" in 1970, says that we need to expand the definition of being human (not what constitutes a human being, but what constitutes humanity).
Then we are taken for a visual tour of our brain via the Allobrain project developed at UC Santa Barbara: "an interactive, stereographic, 3D audio, immersive virtual world constructed from fMRI brain data". Martine Rothblatt tells us that each person will have multiple bodies.
Then the film delves into nanotechnology, presumably to explain one technology that can bring out this marriage of biology and technology, and Eric Drexler, the most famous evangelist of nanoscience, is interviewed.
The film is fair enough to interview a few of the skeptics. The most profound comments come from environmentalist Bill McKibben. His concern is that we are doing something even worse than changing nature: we are changing human nature. The final goal is the death of death (at least for the human species). He is not convinced that he would want to live forever. On the other side of the argument, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla points out that not long ago it was "natural" to die in your thirties but now nobody would sign up for dying at that age. Khosla is convinced that people will always adopt the tools that make them live longer, and even those who say the opposite will do it, given the option.
Back to nanotechnology, Robert Freitas explains how nano-robots (nanobots) can spread into your brain and control every single synapses. They can also replicate so you don't need a big population to start with. As they multiply and evolve, they will de facto provide a continuous upgrade of your brain, just like Microsoft's periodic updates to its operating systems.
James Gashel points out that we don't even need to live in bodies: we will all be alive on the Internet. We won't need a body in order to communicate. The limit will be our imagination, not the material constraints that apply to bodies.
Another skeptic is Bill Joy, who is wary of any chain reaction: once you start it, it is terribly difficult to stop it and the consequences can be catastrophic.
Mitch Kapor is another skeptic. He bet with Kurzweil that no machine will pass the Turing Test before 2029.
Here the film turns into fiction and develops a real storyline. Ramona the artificial intelligence is caught into a political intrigue. An evil human plans to kill her but she is granted a stay of execution and a proper trial. Her defense attorney is the notorious Alan Dershowitz who defended sport star O.J. Simpson at a famous trial. The prosecutor claims that Ramona is nothing but a piece of matter. Dershowitz begs the judge to allow for a Turing Test to decide whether Ramona qualifies as human. The judge accepts. Ramona is tested against three humans. A jury has to decide which of the four is the machine. Ramona is reminded of what a wise man told her: humans feel love in their heart. She replies in a convincing manner and none of the judges guesses which of the four tested is the machine. She passed the Turing Test and her life is spared.
The end is a lengthy monologue by Kurzweil behind colorful visual effects. He talks about how machines will eventually spread human intelligence to fill the whole universe. (Cinematically speaking, this is also the best part of the film - see this snippet).
For what it's worth:
See also: Readings on the Singularity.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi