"We are such stuff as dreams are made on." Shakespeare, The Tempest

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Transcendence

Does a film narrative that lasts over two hours really need to jump to a whole new level every twenty minutes lest the audience otherwise drift away in unsatisfied boredom? The embellishments can easily detract from the credibility of the film’s main subject-matter—in this case, what it would be like for a human being's life-span to be extended past the duration of the corporeal body (including the brain) by means of consciousness in neuro-artificial intelligence.


Rather than pitting “hybrid” people against the good guys with some loud explosions for good measure, the film could have slowed down to explore the matter of “consciousness or just intelligence” in a neuro-based computer infrastructure and whether the one or both are the person who has died or an artificial product thereof.   From these questions stemming from the human brain’s circuitry and electro-chemical “content” as “uploaded” into a computer, the film could have pivoted to the realm of nano-technology, such as synthetic cells, and genetic engineering. If a person’s consciousness can indeed be transferred to a computer, could the artificial confines be but temporary until medical science has advanced to the point at which the person’s consciousness could be transplanted into a recently deceased human brain/body, or a body grown from the person’s own genes. A person could be young again, at least in organic terms.

One of many interesting pathways to explore still further would be whether advances in medical science, including the use of cellular technology, stem-cells, and anti-aging and anti-disease research, enable amortality (i.e., death as no longer inevitable, though still possible) to make “uploading” one’s neuro-content (i.e., consciousness) obsolete even before it has a chance to get underway.

 As early as 2013, medical researchers were beginning to speak publically on the possibility that after 2050 the science and related technology may be able to stave off the aging process, disease, and death itself. From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, such a dramatic change in the species qualifies as a homogenic (i.e., human-produced) accelerated leap in natural selection, essentially giving rise to a new species of hominoid.

Surely people would favor the corporeal extension of one’s current life to being a “mind in a vat” of computer circuitry. Although if medical science is not quite up to the feat as death is knocking on someone’s door in 2050, having one’s brain “uploaded” to a sort of way-station existence for a time would seem to be a no-brainer, at least as compared with the alternative of non-existence. Of course, if a person believes heaven or hell to constitute an after-life, his or her calculus would be altered appreciably. Indeed, a few years of thinking in a computer may seem like hell to a lot of people, even if it is worthwhile until a return to a corporeal body is practicable. Then might this evince transcending resurrection? Not if the latter is a distinctly theological rather than metaphysical or biological construct. That is to say, the ancient concept of resurrection is not resuscitation or regeneration.

The film’s narrative hints of resurrection-like resuscitation, essentially conflating the two, as “hybrids” literally rise off the ground after being riveted with bullets only to be instantaneously repaired through the ground by the computer. Uplifting music suggests the miracle-like feats that the powerful computer being run by the dead scientist’s conscious intelligence is capable of when human life hangs in the balance. Another film, The Matrix, has a similar religious theme related to computer power, or power over an entire computer-world. Perhaps even as the narrative form aids theological understanding for the “rank and file” in a religion, that form can easily get carried away with itself in a way that strips even the theological message of credibility.

As it is, the narrative’s dramatics in Transcendence are enough to sidetrack or eschew the curiously realistic trajectories I have suggested here. Put another way, the screenwriter seems to have gotten sidetracked from questions that may become practical in mere decades in favor of titillating special effects that eviscerate credibility. The irony is that had the storyline been properly contained, the credulity demanded would not have been unjustified given the current state and trajectories of medical science and computer technology.