As an inventor, businessman, and theorist--there is no denying the brilliant accomplishments or the noteworthy eccentricities of the estimable Ray Kurzweil. Alternately hailed as a prophetic genius and/or a raving madman, there is a probably a touch of truth in either position in how Kurzweil and his Singularity Doctrine view the future. "Transcendent Man," an intriguing and lively new documentary, serves as both a biographical sketch and a contemplation of man's progression through time. Kurzweil's position is that the current evolutionary cycle predominantly incorporates technology and that future incarnations of man will be human/robotic hybrids of some variation. He makes a compelling case, and has been quite astute in past predictions, about these changes--and, in fact, science has been working in that direction for quite some time with nanotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
The documentary begins with a fascinating introduction to its subject and his many revolutionary contributions. It's hard not to be caught up in the man's brilliance, impressed by his creations, and intrigued by his vision for man's evolution. As a biography, "Transcendent Man" works tremendously well. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Kurzweil is abundantly obsessed with two concepts--achieving immortality through science and reviving his long dead father by computer programming and artificial intelligence. The second half of the picture evolves into science fiction. There is something both disturbing and touching seeing him contemplate rebuilding his father through old journal entries and documentation.
The final argument of the film is about the nature of man's future. Many other scientists participate in the discussion of the social and philosophical implications of Kurzweil's suppositions. While everyone agrees that technology has a large role to play, there are questions about the timeframe and the depth of that involvement. And while Kurzweil sees only the positive aspects of this hybrid society and allowing technology to take over--many others posit that there are just as many risks. The film really becomes a theoretical debate, which while interesting, seems disconnected from the start of the documentary. A definite and easy recommendation for the subject alone--the film didn't always seem to have narrative cohesion. But regardless of film structure, there is much to digest from the man and the movie. KGHarris, 5/11.