The other day, I happen to read a very interesting article on the foibles of information theory to understand brain in terms of computers.
And it brought back my impressions on the Sci-Fi movie Transcendence.
Transcendence is a recent movie that presents easy transference of human identity and self to a machine like system and to the ever expanding internets.
If we pardon the hasty quantum jumps of breakthroughs in nanotechnology, transferring mind on to machines and zombies, and the immense computational possibility and access to information through the Internet, this movie certainly asks certain right questions and ends with some right answers, at least I think so …
What lingers in my memory are some of these statements and questions:
The movie ends with a revealing inner thought of Max: “He built this garden also like he built everything else, so that you can be together”.
Earlier also, Max (or Joseph?) quips: “The only thing Will owned was you”.
Interspersed with ’empathetic knowing’, ‘viewing emotions through biochemistry’, and admitting that ‘there is a logical conflict with human emotions’, this movie too with a goal to trumpet the future of AI, parallely believes in the triumph of deeper emotions such as ‘Love’.
Evelyn’s hope was to preserve her husband (his mind), as he was while alive, even after he is gone. Since it is only a 120 minutes movie, there isn’t much time to explain how the electrical impulses and all those synaptic information are transferred onto a mega machine without any loss to “data”, and then coded and decoded … except for one reminder as to transferring brain signals isn’t equivalent to transferring the mind – Max’s doubtful words: “Can you transfer him and not even miss a single memory? I am not sure!”
There are at least two times the question of self-awareness brought in the movie, but the question of ‘consciousness’ remained very faint (with the question just in the beginning of the movie: “What is the nature of consciousness”?).
‘Self-awareness’ though wasn’t taken into any complex discussions, is presented as one parameter to check the veracity of self-identity – Are you still the same “Will Caster”.
The first time ‘self-awareness’ is brought in is to check the identity of “PINN” a machine which now owns the mind of a monkey – Joseph asks Pinn “Pinn, how do you prove that you are self-aware?”, and the response from the machine is a counter-question “Can you prove that you are self-aware?”.
The same question is repeated by Joseph to Will Caster who is now a networked sentience power that can control the mega network of information, and the response (from Will) is the same as before, which Evelyn cites as Will’s continuing “sense of humour”.
But then it is significant to remember that the very first statement about how he feels that Will makes just after his mind and brain are transferred to the network is: “I find my mind is free now”.
So, did Will’s mind evolve and become something else, someone else, in the course of time of accessing huge databases and networked information, and infinite computational power, and combining AI with nanotechnological possibilities?
I would think what the movie wishes to say is “No”.
Something stayed the same, in spite of the possibilities given by the freedom from the body. Simply put, it is the love between Will and Evelyn and their wish to be together, that TRANSCENDS their dreams about AI and changing the world.
Well, was I reminded about “The Bicentennial Man”?
Sure, I was!
In “Transcendence” and “The Bicentennial Man”, there is a longing for what is essentially transhuman – which is unconditional love and freedom. And in both the movies what is essentially human is preserved and extolled, even if it is through mortality.