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I heard once that the CIA investigated the producers of Star Trek because they were showing technology on their show that was actually in production, albeit classified. It seemed a reasonable assumption; early flip phones closely resembled Communicators, and many other devices from the show have come to pass. I looked around on the web to see if I could validate this but had no luck; I think it was probably an urban myth.
When I saw the recently released trailer for Transendence it made me think of other seemingly prophetic movies, specifically those regarding artificial intelligence. The premise of the movie is that the foremost expert on Artificial Intelligence (or AI), played by Johnny Depp, is striving towards giving a machine the ability to be self aware—along with all the emotions of being a human. He then somehow gives it access to the internet, and thus to all our digitally stored knowledge.
This is not a new concept. HAL 9000, a fictional character in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series, is a sentient machine who at first is incredibly helpful to its human counterparts. However, it later turns on them when they try to “turn him off” (which to a computer is synonymous with death) and thus activate its survival instinct to protect and continue its programmed directives.
In other variations of the concept of sentient computers, the system was not originally designed as a self aware Wolfram-Alpha-type machine, as this movie depicts. Some, such as Skynet from the Terminator series and Joshua from WarGames, were designed for defense.
Ultimately the one that I think has come closest to our current state of affairs is from Eagle Eye. Tell me if this plot from the film sounds familiar: the US has a central computer where all digital information from around the globe is captured, stored, and processed. This computer, having the highest level of artificial intelligence, has the capacity to learn and is given access to all our knowledge and our ever-growing electronic infrastructure. Surprise, surprise; this computer also goes rogue, trying to kill us faulty humans.
Here is where I’m going with all this: in all these stories, although they have the computers turning on us humans for obvious dramatic reasons, they all have valid points. Stay with me here: we are terrible, we humans are a moral mess and do horrific things to each other under the pretence of conflicting ethical or moral codes.
Now as I oh-so-subtly implied earlier, the Eagle Eye plot portrays a reality that, thanks to Edward Snowden, we know to be nearly here. The NSA has a program called PRISM which garners all the information from around the world, from your email address to the German chancellor’s cellphone correspondence.
Oh, and before you think you’re safe, it stores everyone‘s cellphone location. Yes, you guessed right: somewhere in the headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, US, there is a server that knows where your cellphone—and therefore you—are. This is not part of a movie plot, we know this for a fact. This is why US international relations are a mess right now: because citizens from other countries, even allies, are being spied on and recorded by the US.
Ok, so we have established it has a database with the compendium of all human knowledge and digital interaction. Now the more scary part: the artificial intelligence attached to it, if you are not already aware of this, even Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that its goal was: “to do world-class artificial intelligence research using all of the knowledge that people have shared on Facebook.”
Now if a social media site has AI integration, it’s barely a leap to assume the most powerful data-capturing organization in the world has a similar artificial intelligence system in place.
Then, it should be mentioned, comes the Singularity. I’m quite sure you have heard of it by now, but just in case: Ray Kurzweil wrote a book called The Singularity Is Near. He postulates that technology is accelerating at an exponential pace, so that we are just a few decades away from combining humans with computers—and thus transcending human biology.
Watch the trailer again, and tell me how unrealistic it is now that you have this in mind.