Review of Transcendence (2014)
Seen in 2020.
The same rote transhumanist assumptions as Her (2013), the same reliance on movie stars, the same focus on questions of emotional intimacy over everything else. Transcendence does have broader social ambitions: The scope is large enough for an SF novel, extending to significant large-scale consequences over a five-year period, but it is based entirely on bits and pieces of earlier SF, not on science.
The script is laughably superficial in every aspect, with moments of good kitsch. A scientist trying to “upload” a human mind into a computer to make an artificial intelligence gives up saying “I’ve tried everything: Language processing, cryptography, coding”, as if the writer had literally just made a list of three concepts that have something to do with computers, and settled for that as the final shooting script. In a finale foreshadowed by a Luddite prolepsis, rebels against the singularity shut down the Internet and all computers, which they summarize as being “Y2K”, a moronic misrepresentation of what real engineers prevented in the late 1990s. The AI is centralized, but distributed; it’s based on a human mind, but it also has source code, but it also rewrites its own source code, but it’s also threatened by a human’s knowledge of its original source code, none of which makes sense. When the Internet is shut down, the AI has self-sufficient nanomachines replicating freely in the atmosphere and the biosphere, and the rebels know this, but still draw the unreasonable conclusion that it has to have the human-built Internet to work.
Even the broadest thematic thrusts, beyond the technological premises, are self-contradictory: The AI is not rational but moral, specifically evil and good at the same time; Christ-like in its resurrections of the poor and downtrodden into a new church-like community to heal nature, Satanic in its unmotivated invasion and enslavement of its workers, as by biblical demons. Intellectually, it’s trash. In its visual execution, it’s boring. The miraculous chip onto which the human mind is “uploaded” is suspended between heat sinks that face inward, toward the chip, with a wide air gap; even this simple, most central prop is implausible. Transcendence is a tired techno-thriller for people with no interest in the future.