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Transcendence: Johnny Depp’s New Singularity Film [Almost] Transcends Technophobia

Transcendence is Johnny Depp’s new singularity film that comes out today.


I saw the film last night during its first available time-slot and, in order to avoid big spoilers, I want to write no more than a couple of vague sentences:

Let me admit that, after seeing the teasers and trailers below, I was very negatively predisposed and did not expect anything good. But I was pleasantly surprised because it was rather refreshing to see a mainstream Hollywood movie that was not made by sensationalist Luddites trying to make an easy buck by going for the lowest common denominator.

And so while the movie is by no means outstanding [or anything close to Her], overall it was pretty decent.

As my friend with whom I saw the movie observed: “The main idea was carried through rather well.”

And while the idea, that advanced technologies though often scary are not necessarily bad, is by no means unique or Earth-shattering in any way, it is one worth sending out into the mainstream of public consciousness. And this simple exercise is a considerable step up from the simplistic Terminator/hubris/end-of-the-world scenarios that have dominated science fiction since Frankenstein…


Synopsis: Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions.  His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him.

However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed – to be a participant in his own transcendence.  For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can… but if they should.

Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown.  The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Transcendence co-stars Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Paul Bettany.


I call it Transcendence:


Transcendence: Humanity’s Next Evolution


Revolutionary Independence From Technology [RIFT]


Official Trailer 1:


Official Trailer 2:


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  • It may be too early to say for sure but it seems to me that rather than a thorough investigation of the matters related to the technological singularity the movie will be just another Hollywood attempt to make money with a simple fear-mongering message of hubris…

    I will still have to see the film when it comes out but, if I turn out to be correct, it will too bad as another great opportunity will be missed…

  • Trevor Devalle

    “the movie will be just another Hollywood attempt to make money with a simple fear-mongering message of hubris”

    So sad, so true. 🙁

  • Terrence Lee Reed

    If Hollywood was trying to break the mold with this one it would not be starring Johnny Depp. The same old formula, nothing new, just more CGI, that unfortunately seems to be the most profitable formula Hollywood can think of…

  • Why so negative? After all it’s a movie, not a factual documentary.

  • Because perhaps we are holding Hollywood to a higher standard than it holds itself… And thereby we are hoping to get something a little more out of the box rather than the old doom, gloom and hubris…

  • Martin Rayala, Ph.D.

    I know it’s fashionable for people like me, who put their Ph.D. after their name, to bash mass media in favor of independent media or, even more typically, books, but when you produce something that needs to make $10 million in its first weekend, you attach a big name star to it and make it something that will appeal to more than a few hundred thousand wonks.
    If we want people to start paying attention to concepts like the singularity, movies like Transcendence and stars like Johnny Depp go a long way toward getting the conversation started. Good or bad, movies like this get millions of people talking more and faster than any of our more “scholarly” works.
    Dr. Neal Baer figured this out when he became an executive producer for the CSI TV shows in an effort to get more accurate health and medical information into the public domain. He knows most people get their news from the late night talk show monologues and their health information from weekly dramatic TV crime shows.
    We should promote and encourage the public’s first exposures to the singularity and use it as an opportunity to broaden and deepen public understanding rather than discouraging them from seeing the movie and talking about the ideas.
    The real “missed opportunity” would be to discourage people from seeing the film and have them miss the opportunity to argue about the benefits and constraints of the coming Singularity.

  • Wholewitt

    After reading “Our Final Invention” by Barrat I think that anything that get our government to create a council tasked with setting regulation of AGI development is a good thing. It needs to be contained not let loose.

  • I’m really excited about this film, but I also agree it may be a way for Hollywood to scare the population. Nonetheless, I’m still excited!

  • terrasodium

    there was alot of .D and not much Ph in that speculative heuristical conjecture .Artificial behaviour is not artificial intelligence confusing the two is endemic of the Von Neumann proselytizers of academia. More salesmanship for gadgets is the entire point of the ideas expressed by the singularity and hollywood is going to ride the wave all the way to their collective information driven banks.

  • Guest

    I have news for you, Socrates: ALL Hollywood movies are attempts to make money. That’s why they make movies. It’s a business.

  • Michael Thomas

    “Fear mongering?” Probably, but the awareness you speak of may be much more constructive. There will be a “human” aspect to the lead role as an A.I. which will illicit an emotional response from the audience. Creating this type of emotional human attachment to machines could be what ultimately pushes technology through the Singularity.

    Personally I can’t wait to see “Transcendence” as well as “Her,” if only to catch a glimpse of whether Hollywood will favor support of advancing technologies or bear warning and skepticism. Unfortunately it definitely doesn’t help the cause of the pro-transhumanist that they created this RIFT meme to promote the film.

  • Like @Socrates and :disqus@Michael Thomas :disqus, I’m looking forward to the fact that the film will shed light on singularity and transhumanism and the discourse that results.

    Considering the majority of people have very little (if any) understudying of the research and science behind this, how deep do you expect a film to dive on an issue like this without totally losing people? There are plenty of documentaries and research journals for those who demand a deeper understanding once they’re aware.

    As for whether the film will be cautionary or not, Pfister’s reasoning on creating the film give me hope: “I wanted to get away from the cliched notion of a sentient machine taking over the world. There are deeper questions of what we’re using technology for. To heal or to create a barrier? Is it benevolent or malevolent? I want the audience to understand both sides of it.”

    Despite the trailers seeming “end of the world-ish”, I have hopes that he’ll live up to his words.

  • Also @drphaust:disqus, curious, what did you think of “Her?”

  • Which makes the movie business no different than the majority of other businesses in the world, right? So once we level that playing field, do you think they may also be trying to open people’s eyes to the reality of the science around singularity?

  • Agree, a lot of the teasers and trailers seem like scare tactics…..but, from what Pfister, who directed the film says, he really wants people to think for themselves about both sides of this….you think he’ll pull it off?

  • I really hope so though I am a bit skeptical after seeing the clips…

  • From what I know of the trailer business, they often have complete control over what they include (with no say from the Director)l…holding out hopeful too!

  • Who is “they”?

  • Referring to companies that are hired to create trailers….They get complete control over content with no input from the actual director of the film…..so they can make the film look however they please. Hence the spoilers.

  • beachmike

    I saw Transcendence last night and was very disappointed.
    Any technology geek will see so many plot holes it’s ridiculous.

    WARNING: Some plot spoilers coming up!

    For example, if the computer is getting smarter all the time and making advancements continually, why couldn’t it out-think its former partner and create an effective anti-virus? Also, if it had such powerful nanotechnology, why didn’t it use it earlier to defeat its enemies when they first attacked the solar panels?

    This was not one of the better sci-fi movies.

  • beachmike

    I guess I was expecting something along the lines of an updated “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” minus the cold war theme.

  • beachmike

    The last thing we need is more government regulation. We aren’t close to creating an AGI anyhow, so such a council will have nothing to do for many years and will therefore be a total waste of taxpayer money.

  • beachmike

    Sometimes Hollywood succeeds in spite of itself. I was hoping this movie would be one of those times .

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  • cletc47

    Hoping the DVD release includes deleted scenes, it’ll probably bring more light to some of the aforementioned plot holes

  • I am sorry friend, but I personally wouldn’t waster my time on that…

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