The Technological Apocalypse is Coming (Straight to DVD)

Over the last 15 years a brilliant and charismatic self-made man has been campaigning across the United States, describing a near-future event that will deliver human salvation, immortality, and unlimited creative potential. After this event, he claims, the trappings of earthly life will no longer plague us: we will no longer age or get sick; we will be able to create our own worlds to our exact preferences; and we will no longer be restricted to our current physical forms. 

This man’s vision has become the center of a growing movement that already has tens of thousands of adherents, dozens of shared texts, and its own nonprofit school that aims to “assemble, educate, and inspire a cadre of leaders” to one day “address humanity’s grand challenges.”

This might sound like a run-of-the-mill new religious movement, but what makes Ray Kurzweil’s “Singularity” movement unique is that it doesn’t consider itself religious at all. Singularity Theory holds that technology will continue to grow exponentially until “human” and “digital” forms combine seamlessly.

Last year Robert M. Geraci wrote this fantastic essay on the “Cult of Kurzweil,” contextualizing it within a larger history of our “faith in technology to produce transcendent human conditions.” Where Geraci focuses on the apocalyptic aspects of Kurzweil and other futurists, I keep asking myself another question: how does “Singularitarianism” cross the lines between science, religion, and science fiction?

My obsession with the sci-fi elements of Singularity Theory has been reignited with the announcement that The Singularity Is Near has been adapted into a delightfully low-budget sci-fi film that will be released next month. Here’s the official website of the movie, where release details should be announced shortly. Trailer below (spoiler alert: look out for cameos by Alan Dershowitz AND Tony Robbins).

Details about the film and its release are still hazy, but the trailer alone nicely illustrates how quickly Singularity-brand futurism can turn into science fiction. Intertwined with Kurzweil’s interviews of fellow futurists is a “Pinocchio story” about an AI avatar created by Kurzweil, who must justify her own existence as a conscious digital entity. According to IMDB, the film will be released straight to DVD and digital download on July 20. 

Singularity Theory has been rightly criticized for overemphasizing the influence of technology over other aspects of life, such as politics, culture, and religion. Kurzweil has been predicting the future for over a decade now, and with each new book he has been forced to postpone or modify his technological milestones to fit with the chaotic and messy “real world” that defies his orderly model. What makes Kurzweil interesting, though, isn’t his accuracy so much as his appeal. Kurzweil is so convincing in part because he is tapping our existing attitudes about technology, and articulating it back to us in an attractive and amplified form. In this way Kurzweil isn’t just a religious figure, he’s also a great author of science fiction. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to crank up the AC, tell Siri to hold my calls, and watch this film on my iPad while I tweet about how silly it is to get seduced by technology.

  

aghapour@email.unc.edu'

Andrew Aghapour is a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill where he studies religion and science.  His research focuses on contemporary debates about cognitive science and religion.