magazinehas labeledthe Singularity a “serious hypothesis…an idea that rewards sober, carefulevaluation.” Where once Kurzweil was listed among the fringe and suspected of being just a bit off- balance, in the past few years (especially since founding his own for-profit school,Singularity University ) he has become a legitimate prophet.
Perhaps calling Kurzweil a prophet actually undersells his current popularity; if popular media canmake a man into a saint, then Kurzweil has been beatified.
, a biographicaldocumentary about Kurzweil, cruised into film festivals in 2009 and received wide accolades aroundthe time of its 2011 digital release.Like any good hagiography, the film revels in Kurzweil’s genius as well as his eccentricity: one moment we see blind people praising him for changing their lives with his reading machines and the nextmoment we hear Kurzweil promising that he will resurrect his father from the dead—or watch himswallow hundreds of vitamin supplements out of a hope that these will keep him alive until he canupload his mind. Perhaps it is because Kurzweil appeals as both genius inventor and spiritual saviorthat the film garnered considerable attention. Thanks to the film, Kurzweil and the director, Barry Ptolemy, were able to evangelize in print and in interviews, such as in their recentconversationwithPBS's Charlie Rose.The reviewer for the ever-hip
Film School Rejects
claimsthat “every moment of Transcendent Man isabout as compelling as it gets,” the Associate Editor of the International Documentary Association’s webpage lists the film as one of her top ten documentary film picks of 2009 and the film’s pressreleases cite a rave from Ain’t It Cool Newsthat says, “not only is Transcendent Man the must-see filmof 2011 but it just might change your life forever”. Whether or not the film accurately prophecies thefuture, it certainly looks likely to profit the filmmakers. Upon its initial iTunes release in Canada, thefilm shot into to the top ten in popularity, which was followed by immediate success in the UnitedStates.
One Singular Salvation?
It is, of course, totally unclear whether Moravec, Kurzweil, and their supporters are correct. Will robots become massively intelligent? Will human beings become highly intelligent cyborgs or upload ourminds fully into machines and thereby live forever? Whether they are correct is probably less importantthan the fact that the faithful who believe they are has a growing membership. Singularity University had more than 1200 applications for its first nine-week graduate class in 2009 (40 students wereaccepted). Public policy leaders and corporate officers have attended executive classes and funding hascome from major tech companies such as Google and Nokia. Press surrounding the university has beenpositive, including evenan encouraging review from the
Chronicle of Higher Education
, whichsuggests that traditional universities have much to learn from SU’s curriculum. What we see is the emergence of a genuine religious tradition. Is it new? Not exactly: faith intechnology to produce transcendent human conditions is centuries old. But this manifestation, whetherit be under the label of transhumanism, Singularitarianism, or (as I’ve called it) Apocalyptic AI, has a