Transcendence

Future philosophy

This is a British-American, science-fiction thriller about a research scientist facing death who is brought back to life as a digitally advanced, super-computer.

Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a renowned research scientist, who works in the field of artificial intelligence. His research is pioneering and controversial. Caster's scientific goal is to create a computer that will combine universal knowledge, which is knowledge about everything, with the human capacity to experience 'emotional expressivity and self-awareness.'

The combination of universal knowledge with the full range of human emotion is known as 'transcendence,' and it gives the meaning of the film's title. Some people fear technological advancement going that far, and are threatened by Caster's progress. Working closely with him are his partner-scientist wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and his partner-scientist friend, Paul Bretanny (Max Waters). Paul, in particular, has doubts.

Anti-technology extremists plot to kill Caster, who is struck down by them and left dying. His imminent death, however, provides a unique chance to test the results of his work. At death's door by a radioactive gunshot wound, Caster has a chance to stay alive.

With the help of his wife, Evelyn, he becomes a digital version of his former self when she uploads his mind to a powerful computer. In his new form, Caster attempts to use complete knowledge to gain power and total control, and Evelyn becomes alarmed at what she sees happening. The resolution of it all rests with the love Will and Evelyn have for each other.

The movie highlights a range of philosophical and moral dilemmas associated with radical changes to human consciousness. We are asked to consider, for instance, whether we can 'evolve the future' without technology? Are there limits to the degree of control that technology can achieve? And should technology be allowed ethically to combine human feelings with computer-determined consciousness?

The movie Her took us brilliantly to the limits of this third question. This movie puts the same theme into the sci-fi context in a much more plot-complex way. It is thinking sci-fi that points us entertainingly towards some terrifying possibilities of computer-intelligence that, in the film's own words, aims to create 'your own God.'

- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB

Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Max Waters, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Wally Pfister. Rated M (Science fiction themes and violence). 119 min.

Transcendence

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