Staff Reviews

Briefly Noted: Singularity Seer

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Ray Kurzweil has an astonishing record as an inventor and technological forecaster, but he is perhaps most famous for his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near. In it he predicts that by 2045 exponential technological growth will cause computer intelligence to outstrip human intelligence, utterly changing everything about the human world.

A new documentary by Barry Ptolemy, Transcendent Man, humanizes the geek prophet by telling Kurzweil's personal story: his longing for a father who died young, his struggles with heart problems and diabetes, the 200 vitamins he takes each day. But the film puts too much emphasis on the psychological why at the expense of the technological how. The Kurzweil who invents devices to help the blind read and gives PowerPoint presentations full of logarithmic curves to packed stadiums is ultimately a more compelling character than the guy with a storage locker full of his dad's dry cleaning receipts who hopes to bring the old man back to life someday.