Doug Wolens Talks To The Atlantic About The Singularity

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Singularity Docmentary
The Singularity
Doug Wolens's recent documentary, The Singularity takes on the complex, abstract concept of the Singularity. Too some, the idea sounds like sci-fi but, Wolens and others argue, there's no denying the sweeping impact of technology on human existence.  In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Wolens described the film.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, film maker, Doug Wolens discussed his new documentary, The Singularity.

Wolens' film looks at the sweeping impact of technology on human existence and the implications of the technological Singularity using interviews with subject matter experts and clever animations.

For the film, Wolens interviews: Ray Kurzweil, Leon Panetta, Richard A. Clarke, Bill McKibben, David Chalmers, Christof Koch, Aubrey De Grey, Ralph Merkle, Brad Templeton, Cynthia Breazeal, Marshall Brain, Glenn Zorpette and others.

As Wolens describes in the interview, the process of making the film led him on a journey of self-discovery as well.  While he initially "drank the Kool-Aid" of the singularitarian movement, he came to recognize the deeper nuances of the implications as he interviewed his subjects.

As I interviewed these scientists and technological leaders, I started to see holes in some of the arguments. I began questioning the philosophical and moral implications. The promise of this new future began to lose its luster. If smarter-than-human computers were created, how would they treat their human creators? Would everyone have the means to augment their intelligence or just the rich? What would happen if something went wrong with these super powerful technologies and destroyed everything on the planet? Or if these powerful technologies got in the wrong hands and were maliciously used? Maybe the Singularity wasn’t such a good idea.—
This thinking also shaped the way Wolens constructed the film.  While he could have cut the interviews in a way to put forth his own opinions on the subject, his format lets the viewer reach their own conclusions.

"Just as in real life, the viewer brings his or her own picture of the world to the film and draws their own conclusions about the goals of each interviewee. It’s as if the viewer gets to meet each person in the film and sit with them as individuals, not just characters in a story."

Also, compared to other science and technology documentaries that show scientists in their labs, or working on computers, Wolens used a different technique.

"I decided to use animation to depict these technologies. I recognized that animation, as an art form in itself, could not only depict the science, but also capture our notion of the future and the promises of technology," Wolens says. "We also decided to make the animations fun and silly to balance the tone of the film’s subject matter."

Wolens is currently self-distributing this film and is hoping to work on another documentary on aesthetics in the future, he tells The Atlantic.

The Singularity is available  on iTunes or from the film's website.