“Transcendence” is the title of a movie about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I was interested in this movie because I recently wrote a long short story that I entitled “The Brain Collector” based on the concept that the human brain is significantly more capable computationally and in terms of energy efficiency than any super-computer that has been devised by man. So why not use the human brain as a computer? I submitted my story to a sci-fi magazine and I’m waiting for their decision.
The movie is based on the concept that at a certain point in time in the future computer AI and the human brain will coalesce, a point that has been labelled “the singularity” by the futurist Ray Kurzweil. The time after that occurs according to this movie will be “the transcendence.” The plot of the movie is that a very clever computer scientist, who has managed to make breakthroughs in monitoring the activity of monkey brains using computer technology is shot by anti-technology extremists, and while he is dying he has himself attached to the computer and “uploads” his own brain activity into the computer. Together with the internet this makes him omnipotent and he starts to replan the future of mankind according to his own decisions about its needs.
This film could be labelled science fiction, except that it veers very strongly into science fantasy. There were several aspects about this movie that disturbed me. 1. The plot takes a decidedly anti-technology turn, namely that the anti-technology extremists are shown to be right, namely once this man’s brain is absorbed into the computer he becomes dictatorial and begins to control everyone and everything; 2. When his brain activity combines with the internet he is seen to be unstoppable and the only way to stop the all-powerful computer-brain is to turn off the internet; 3. By setting up his own energy source and carrying out experiments with plants and humans he is able to make ultra-strong followers who cannot be killed; 4. He develops through the use of nano-technology mini-bots that can reproduce themselves and “take-over” the world; 5. The idea that the US Govt. would not know about this huge development in the desert (how could they build it without being detected) and that in response the US Govt. would send two trucks and one artillery gun is ludicrous.
This is all very silly. First, the internet is merely a source of information that anyone can access (for good or ill). It’s like saying get rid of libraries because there is evil in some books. Second, nano-technology is merely a means of making very small things, it cannot solve all the world’s problems. Thus, the idea that some nanotechnology mini-bots would somehow come out of the ground and rebuild photovoltaic cells and plants and humans is pure fantasy, and has nothing to do with the central question of whether or not a human brain can be combined with AI.
But, by definition AI is not natural intelligence. In fact the test devised to tell when AI has been achieved is the Turing Test, when a man could not tell whether or not he is communicating with a machine or another man. Therefore, a human brain has natural intelligence not AI and so does not need AI to function effectively. The idea that AI will somehow augment and improve the natural functions of the brain is pure fantasy. AI merely attempts to achieve the level of intelligence exhibited by the human brain. Nevertheless, the movie “Transcendence” is a good start in exploring some of these issues, if only they had stuck with science fiction and did not extend into stupid science fantasy.