A.I. (r)Evolution – A review of Transcendence

Johnny Depp stars as Will Caster, a scientist who has developed artificial computer intelligence in the science fiction thriller Transcendence
Johnny Depp stars as Will Caster, a scientist who has developed artificial computer intelligence in the science fiction thriller Transcendence

Title: Transcendence

Production Company: Alcon Entertainment

Run Time: 119 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Wally Pfister

Stars: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara

4 stars for Transcendence

Summary: That super cool toaster oven that your spouse gave you for Christmas just may indeed be plotting to take over the world. Of course if Johnny Depp is in its intricate workings, you might want to consider pulling the plug now.

Technology seems to improve on almost a daily basis, making our lives simpler and more convenient, however that doesn’t always mean that all of those improvements are necessarily beneficial or in the best interests of society.

Take, for example, video games. The graphics have gotten better, the storylines more realistic and the kids who play them more obese.

But I digress. Artificial intelligence has always managed to elude scientific geniuses who have tried, time and again, to create a robot mind that rivals a human’s.

Theoretically, it should be possible. Although, if an AI mind is designed by an irrational human, removing the irrationalities from a robot mind should be challenging at best.

Science fiction has dealt with this subject on numerous occasions and has always managed to prove out the flaws of the creators in the end. A perfect artificial intelligence is, in a practical sense, highly impractical.

Yet in this movie, Transcendence, Will Caster (Johnny Depp) makes the turning point discovery on how to upload a person’s consciousness into a machine to create a truly artificial intelligence, complete with human flaws.

When he is shot with a bullet laced with pelonium, Caster is given just a short time to live. His colleagues decide that, in order for him to survive, they must upload his mind into a computer to test the algorithms developed to turn his brain synapses into true artificial intelligence.

A human’s mind is always in growth and, unchecked by a moral compass, can turn into a truly diabolical manifestation or even a caricature of the human condition.

The same can be said of an unchecked computer intelligence, and nowhere is that proved better than here. The outcome becomes predictable and, in fact, necessary.

Good science fiction manages to stimulate the mind into considering possibilities that one may not have previously contemplated. Great science fiction compels one to evaluate and even redefine one’s own perspective about the shape and direction that the future is undertaking.

Is AI a good idea? Depending on the application, perhaps, but left unchecked, it could just be the undoing of everything we have built up in the world up until now.

The film would not have been as compelling were it not for the fantastic performances evoked by screen icons like Depp, Morgan Freeman and Paul Bettany.

Freeman plays an elder scientist who first realizes that the AI application is a mistake. Even though Caster is his friend, he’s willing to entertain options early on that Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) refuses to accept.

Bettany plays Max, another scientist who works with Evelyn to complete the transfer of Caster’s intellect into the computer. Even he, though, is unsure of the ramifications of the questionable experiment and counsels Evelyn to pull the plug before it is too late.

Kate Mara plays the head of RIFT, a covert organization pledged to the undoing of scientific advancements that the organization fears may spell the end of civilization.

The only real flaw that I disliked was the seeming manner in which Caster’s computer could completely control the surrounding environment, including manipulation of the particles around his installation to build and rebuild destroyed solar panels and equipment.

This is not a film to be taken lightly and it isn’t simply a feel good picture designed to assuage our fears about the coming expansion of technology into our lives and our futures.

If anything, it proves that our vigilance may be all the more necessary as technology evolves. I give Transcendence four out of five stars.

Does a potential AI takeover of the world scare you?

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