Getting to Know Barry Ptolemy
by Jason Silva
FROM LEFT: Jason Silva and Barry Ptolemy
Jason Silva talks the future of mankind with Transcendent Man director Barry Ptolemy.
JASON SILVA: Why make a film about the life and ideas of futurist Ray Kurzweil?
BARRY PTOLEMY: There is no one else like Ray. I believe his predictions about the future make him one of the greatest thinkers of our—or any—time. He is describing the most audacious, most profound
ideas humans have ever grappled with. Due to the exponential nature of change, our world and species are about to change radically and irrevocably. Most people are completely unaware of this fact, so for this reason making a movie on Ray was a way to communicate what the near future is going to be like.
JS: What is “the Singularity” and what are its implications?
BP: Ray describes the Singularity as a point in time in the near future [he puts the date at 2045] when technological change will be happening so fast we won’t be able to keep up—unless we merge with the technology we are creating. The implications of this Singularity—and the time leading up to it—will completely alter humankind as we know it. Simply put, we will become a human-machine civilization.
JS: There is something heroic about the human species and our ability to overcome limitations and extend our reach. Can you comment?
BP: Ray’s definition of what it is to be human is to transcend our boundaries and go beyond our limitations. Think about when mankind first left the cave and looked up at the sky and dreamt of human flight. We have evolved to that very vision. We are the living embodiment of that early human desire. So now we stand at the precipice of species-altering changes—radical life extension, virtual reality, superhuman intelligence. In only a few decades’ time, we will be able to bear witness to the extraordinary dreams we now imagine.
JS: What do you say to those who believe we are playing God by tinkering with nature?
BP: Maybe the universe wants to be tinkered with. I mean if it didn’t, why would such intelligent, curious creatures emerge to do so? I see technology and technological evolution as an extension of Darwinian biological evolution. We really don’t have much choice in creating these technologies. The good news is we do have a choice in how we use them.
JS: What happens when we transcend biological mortality—do we become gods?
BP: It will seem like we have godlike powers just as we seem godlike to our ancestors. Once we have shed our biological bodies we will be able to move at electronic speeds, and we’ll be able to communicate with thousands and then eventually millions and even billions of people at the same time. Perhaps most important we will not be subject to all the dangers that befall biological life forms since all our thoughts, experiences and memories will be backed up.
JS: When can people see Transcendent Man?
BP: We’ve been working on a very special release of the film. That should happen sometime in 2010.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NOAH ABRAMS