If the question was always to a group of people, "what is the most important aspect of science-fiction", you will inevitably receive answers that include; thought-provoking, sparks the imagination and its fun. One of the most important functions of sci-fi is not immediately come to mind. It is a reflection of humanity; our hopes, our fears and our future. Some the best science-fiction stories were highly political holding our system of government up to pointed examination slyly concealed as a story about aliens. It can take our deepest fears and expose them in what seems to be like infotainment. Science-fiction can also serve as a prophet, warning us of the dire consequences of the new technology people learning to play with. This category of storytelling has allowed us to examine humanity through robots and cyborgs distancing the writer from any detractors claiming he is a dissident, disseminating antisocial ideas. Sci-fi has helped bring us the terms with the nuclear age, the perceived threat of communist infiltration and many of these worst aspects of human nature, such as our need to dominate and enslave others. In today’s modern world technology has realized many of the dreams that science-fiction once offers us.
While we still don’t have the promised flying cars we have stepped on the moon, and reached deep within ourselves to decipher DNA, the literal book of life. The dangers of genetic research have been the main theme of science-fiction for number of years now. Recently, a potential specter of doom looms over us. It is made possible by the very technology and devices that have reinvented our society and our way of life; computers. All over the globe hundreds of millions of devices are communicating with each other. Not only our cell phones and computers that this is extended to our television sets, Blu-ray players and many of our household appliances, creating what many fear is a gigantic, planet wide neural net. The number of these devices and their linkages of rapidly approaching the incredible complexity of the neurons and pathways found in the human brain. The brain has always been said to be the most powerful computer possible. Soon that might not be the case.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is like most scientists overwhelmed by a drive to understand the universe. His interest is much broader than a few specifics; he wants to understand it in its entirety. Such hubris has been found many times in the past, but until this current age research did not have the means to dangerously alter the very foundation what we know is reality. Dr. Caster and his colleagues are working on what is considered the Holy Grail of computer science, the creation of a truly sentient computer. His prediction echoes a topic of great debate in the real world. Once a machine is capable of truly individual thought indistinguishable from that of a man Caster predicts a tipping point will be reached, the singularity. For those who are on their science network programming. You might recognize this as a real term that many researchers at the cutting edge of cybernetics regard is either the dawn of a new age or the end of humanity’s reign at the apex life form on earth. The singularity, or is Caster refers to it, transcendence, is the point at which computer intelligence, initially reaches that of humanity only to quickly and drastically to pass it. The evolutionary period for the state of computer technology, storage capacity and sheer computing power, is incredibly short, especially when compared to the eons required to change an organic organism. There’ve been many stories about computers becoming self-aware from ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ to the ultimate end of mankind at the hands of machines epic, ‘The Terminator Saga’. In all of these scenarios, one thing remains constant; we all the authors of our own destruction, brushed aside by our own creations. What is most frightening about this current batch of doomsday scenarios is that we are frighteningly close to the precipice of their current. My generation grew up during the Cold War, when the fear that overwhelmed us all was all-out nuclear extermination. We managed to somehow survive, but to generation report to the world now has to come to grips with the fact that computer intelligence has come extremely close to making the science-fiction horror stories of reality.
Dr. Caster’s wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and many of his colleagues feel that Caster has given in the paranoia. He has built a Faraday cage in his garden in order to protect against wireless signals effectively isolating him from the global grid. There is a saying that you not really paranoid when they are actually out to get to. This applies very well to Dr. Caster. There is a revolutionary group that calls themselves G.R..I.D., Revolutionary Independence from Technology. They are neo-Luddite group that fears technology will overrun humanity. There’ve always been groups certain the technological innovations will bring ruination, a prevalent fear during the Industrial Revolution. The one point made by this movie that will continue to echo in your consciousness is that this group, while definitely fanatical, is founded on more than a grain of truth. G.R..I.D. is very well organized and manages to initiate an intricately timed and synchronized attack on the leading artificial intelligence laboratories in the world. As part of this attack Caster is shot. Although the wound itself is superficial, the bullet was infused with the deadly radioactive compound that once in his bloodstream is absolutely fatal, giving them only a few months to live.
Evelyn was not only Caster’s wife, but his research partner. Well-versed with the project, but had complete access to the equipment, including a cutting edge quantum computer with the potential for storage and processing will be on that of the 8 pound gelatinous mass encased within a skull. Evelyn’s idea, the only hope to save her husband, is to upload his consciousness into the computer. Caster’s best friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), has grave reservations about performing this transfer. The discussion continues as Will rapidly approaches his death. He wants to transfer to be made, as well as being connected to the Internet so we can continue to grow for constant stream of information and stimuli. Max, seeing the exceptionally dangerous potential to this move vehemently objects, but is not only overruled; he is objected physically from the facility. Shortly afterwards, Max’s is approach by the rebel leader, Bree (Kate Mara), who abducts the scientist in order to enlist him to their cause. Meanwhile, the federal government is exceptionally wary of the plan to upload Caster’s consciousness into such a powerful computer and allowing it unthreaded access to the web. In what seems to be an almost mandatory plot contrivance, the government conspires to take out the facility and derailing the procedure. The perfect scapegoat for this operation is to blame it on the rebels, G.R.I.D., the FBI agent assigned, Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), is assigned to stop the singularity from occurring. To achieve this, he enlists the aid of a government scientist, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman).
The procedure is successful, perform for the machinations to destroy it are underway. With Evelyn’s help Caster intellect, now residing in the quantum computer and free from physical constraints, achieves incredible advancements in a myriad of disciplines including medicine, material science and nanotechnology. The test is conducted by turning a remote desert town, Brightwood, into a futuristic utopia. The mandated danger that was obviously coming doesn’t take long to manifest. Any person exposes the slightest way to one of the nanoparticles that Caster designed are subtly changed by them. Once infected Caster is able to communicate with your thoughts and control their minds. Understandably, this lease of the third act that unites the government, the rebels and cast is friends in a desperate attempt to stop him.
This is by no means a new storyline science-fiction. In 1958, there was a movie, ‘The Colossus of New York’ were a brilliant scientist at his mind upload it into a robotic brain. Since then, a myriad of television, films and novels have examined the concept of removing human consciousness of the organic ties that makes us human. In each case, as it was here, they discover all too late that there is a synergy between the electrical impulses that store and convey thought in the organic matter that houses them. Once the thoughts are removed from the human being, it ceases to be human and is now unconstrained by the social conventions and morality that makes us human. In this case, there was little to differentiate it from its predecessors. True, the special effects were far superior to most of the previous films, but unfortunately all too often special effects are not used to bolster the story, enhancing is entertainment value, but rather in lieu of a strong story and definitive character development. There was nothing novel in the character arcs of either those who remain human or in Caster as he transitions from man to pure electronic thought by passing through the singularity; transcendence. You can just about write the ending after 25 minutes of the running time has elapsed. Best performance as a human being could have used an infusion of his trademark over animation to separate it from the devoid of emotion transcended form. As always, Mr. Freeman plays a man of reason in authority with the élan of a man was undertaken every variation of this archetype from the president of the United States to God. The one notable thing about this film is that it is among the first to introduce technology that is either readily available now only be realized before the next generation holds the world. If this film has sparked an interest in the singularity, I can suggest a more action oriented and exceedingly better done movie, ‘Machine’. At least in that film, the focal point of the singularity is in the form of a beautiful woman was also able to defeat a horde of soldiers. ‘Transcendence’ comes across more like a lecture and advanced computer theory given in a very large stuffy lecture hall on campus.