Johnny Depp Is Starring in a Movie About the Singularity

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 20 2013 3:32 PM

Johnny Depp Is Starring in a Movie About the Singularity

Johnny Depp in Transcendence movie
Johnny Depp takes a break from playing a man made of alcohol to play a man made of code.

Screenshot / YouTube

Ray Kurzweil is convinced the technological singularity is nigh. So is Johnny Depp's character, it seems, in a Hollywood flick that's due out in April. 

This may be the singularity's mainstream moment. Popularized by sci-fi author Vernor Vinge, the term refers to a theoretical point at which machines eclipse humans in intelligence, and beyond which pretty much everything changes. Kurzweil is its preeminent latter-day apostle, and he was recently hired as an engineer by Google to work on hastening its arrival by teaching computers to understand English. Now we've got Captain Jack Sparrow explaining it in a voiceover.

Advertisement

Yet tech geeks' enthusiasm for the flick might be tempered by the ample early evidence that its take on artificial intelligence will be rather loosely tethered to reality. (Then again, some of Kurzweil's critics would say the same about him.) "The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, engineers, mathematicians pales in comparison to even the most basic A.I.," Depp's character explains in the teaser trailer. Um, Dr. Caster? I hate to tell you this, but today's most advanced A.I. pales in comparison to the intellect of even the most basic humans, except in constrained settings like chess or Jeopardy!. The most sentient machines we've seen so far hit the limit of their intelligence when they learned to make out images of cats on YouTube.

But OK, let's give the film a break and assume it's set sometime in the future. The key to the concept of the singularity, after all, is that technological progress is exponential. "What happens when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware?" asks Morgan Freeman's voice quite seriously in a second trailer for the film. "Is it the key to immortality, or is it the path towards annihilation?" 

I'll take "annihilation" for $200, Morgan! Sounds fun, though, right? Maybe?

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 17 2014 4:08 PM How Teflon Is Vladimir Putin's Popularity?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 17 2014 4:10 PM Can These Women Fix the NFL? Or will the NFL fix them?
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 4:07 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Genius of Jenson’s Roman
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?