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Sci-fi film provokes thought

By Spencer Palmer
On April 21, 2014

What if the next phase of evolution doesn’t come from mutation, but from technology?

Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, respectively) are at the forefront of artificial intelligence research. With their friend and colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany), they put on a conference called Evolve the Future, where they tell the world they can save lives through artificial intelligence and make the world a better place.

In his speech, Will speaks specifically of a super intelligence, an intelligence more powerful than the collective intelligence of everyone who ever lived. He calls it transcendence.

Unfortunately a cyber terrorist group, called the Revolutionary Independence From Technology or RIFT, has other plans. They attack artificial labs all over the country and pay Will a special visit with a radioactive bullet. Will gets sick and is given a month to live.

Evelyn acquires research from another scientist regarding uploading the consciousness of monkeys to a computer. She digs into it, looking for options for Will. Ultimately she decides to move forward with it, and she convinces Will they should try it. Max is hesitant, but Will assures him the process won’t work.

Over the next few days, Max and Evelyn work together to upload Will’s consciousness until Will dies. Evelyn sorts through the information to make sense of it but makes little progress. In the moment she decides to quit, a message appears on a monitor: “Are you there?”

“Transcendence” is an excellent science fiction film that explores many aspects of artificial intelligence, from the personal to the global. It will challenge your notions of artificial intelligence. It brings up situations and questions that may need to be answered in the near future.

Because this movie wasn’t written or directed by Christopher Nolan, it didn’t receive the attention it deserves. However, it will fit perfectly with a Nolan collection. The director, Wally Pfister, was director of photography for all of Nolan’s hits, so in many ways, he’s been trained by one of the best directors of our generation. Pfister drew upon a few actors Nolan has before used, including Hall, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman.

I recognize some people enjoy being told all the answers, but this movie leaves questions unanswered and allows the audience to think for themselves and challenge their thoughts. There are a few twists that make the story compelling. My first thought at the end of the movie was, “Wow.”

Go out and see this thinker about intelligence. You’ll probably want to go with at least one person so you can talk about it afterwards. It’s not going to leave audiences blown away like “Inception,” but it will create a splinter for your mind.

Grade: A

Spencer Palmer is a graduate student working toward an MBA with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Email him at or visit his website,

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