Doug Wolens on the Singularity: It’s Ultimately Up To You

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Posted on: February 6, 2013 / Last Modified: October 12, 2021

Today my guest is Doug Wolens. Doug is the lawyer-turned-documentarian whose most recent film is The Singularity.

I have to say that neither Doug nor his film is what I expected. To paraphrase and add to one of the other iTunes film reviewers – what I was expecting was “Wohooo! Singularity!” But what I got instead was a surprisingly detailed critical examination of the notion of the singularity, by a very honest, open-minded, and profoundly human and humanistic filmmaker. And that made the whole experience uniquely better.

During this Singularity 1 on 1 interview with Doug Wolens we discuss a variety of topics such as: how he decided to quit being a lawyer and become a documentarian film-maker and story-teller; growing up in the ’60s and getting inspired by the Apollo program; reading Ray Kurzweil‘s seminal book The Age of Spiritual Machines and deciding to make a movie about those ideas; the singularity, its definition and what the film is all about; Doug’s Socratic method of film-making and storytelling; his 12-year-long struggle to produce, shoot, edit and distribute the movie; the things that inspired and surprised him the most during the making of The Singularity; his experience interviewing Ray Kurzweil…

My two favorite quotes from Doug are:

Just because I am suggesting science as a means, it doesn’t get us to a scientific end. It gets us to a humanistic end.

It is ultimately up to you – the viewer, you – the thinker in the world, to say: “This is right for me; this is how I want to live in this world.

As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full. To show your support you can write a review on iTunesmake a direct donation, or become a patron on Patreon.


The Singularity [The Film]: Will we survive our technology?!

Film Synopsis: The Singularity is defined as the point in time when computer intelligence exceeds human intelligence. This notion of superhuman machines has long served as fodder for tales of science fiction. Yet most scientific leaders argue that these changes are inevitable, based on the accelerating rate of technological progress.

Clearly, some emerging technologies could have unknown consequences that could lead to catastrophic events or be abused for malicious purposes.

While we cannot be certain of what our future brings, it is nonetheless important to understand the great strides being made in fields such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and molecular biology, and how these technologies will radically alter the way we live. Inevitably, the question arises: what kind of humans do we want to become?

Director Doug Wolens speaks with leading futurists, computer scientists, artificial intelligence experts, and philosophers who turn over the question like a Rubik’s Cube. Those who insist this paradigm shift is only decades away emphasize that we’re on the cusp of creating nanotech machines that patrol our bloodstream and repair cellular damage, athletes with jacked-up genetic code who sprint like gazelles, an Internet that downloads directly to the mind, and medical labs with computer-replicated brains working by the thousands to cure disease.

Ultimately, if we become more machine-like, and machines more like us, will we sacrifice our humanity to gain something greater? Or will we engineer our own demise? Even if the answers are impossible to know, THE SINGULARITY makes clear that we cannot postpone addressing the questions.

The down-to-earth and visually fun animations created by Jerry van de Beek and Betsy de Fries of Little Fluffy Clouds, illustrate the complex ideas with clear and simple artistry. These animations build upon our past notions of the future and playfully complement the talking-head interviews.

The film’s score, composed by renowned cellist Chris Lancaster, resonates to the viewer’s core. Wanting to stay away from heavy-handed music and sound cues, Wolens and Lancaster collaborated to create a cohesive sound that reflects the film’s sensibilities and aesthetics.

THE SINGULARITY is a comprehensive and insightful documentary that examines technology’s accelerating rate, and deftly addresses the resulting moral questions.


Who is Doug Wolens?

Doug Wolens grew-up in Chicago, earned two BA degrees, a law degree, and spent seven years as a practicing attorney in New York City; he moved to San Francisco and became a filmmaker in 1993. Wolens’s first short, Happy Loving Couples, was selected to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. He’s made two other shorts, Reversal (1994) and In Frame (1995), all of which have played at film festivals throughout the world. His 1996 feature documentary, Weed, premiered at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam and had a 40-city theatrical tour of the U.S. In 2000, Wolens feature documentary Butterfly was broadcast nationally on P.O.V. PBS’s award-winning documentary showcase and on The Sundance Channel. Wolens successfully self-distributed Butterfly to more than 50 theatres throughout the country.

Wolens lives in San Francisco with his wife Katie and son Theo. He is currently developing a documentary on aesthetics and design.

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