Structuring the documentary

What will I focus on?

Because twenty minutes for a complete documentary on a fairly complicated subject matter isn’t very long, I’ve decided to focus on one aspect of this – I’ll explore how three great overlapping revolutions in science could be drawing us closer to the Singularity:

1) GENETICS (biotechnology) – How scientists are looking at ways of reprograming the human body away from disease and ageing – Today: certain genes in mice switched off so they are living 20% longer.

2) NANOTECHNOLOGY – In the next 25 years it’s thought we’ll have blood cell sized devices that can travel around the body and keep us healthy from the inside, that go inside the brain and interact with neurons and allow us to merge with non-biological intelligence – Today: used in drug delivery systems and to manufacture replacement body parts.

3) ROBOTICS – refers to artificial intelligence. Possibly the most signigficant revolution of all. By 2029, it’s predicted that machines will be able to match human intelligence, and soon after go beyond it. Scientists are already claiming there’s nothing in our bodies and brains that we won’t be able to recreate in a lab, or, in fact, enhance. In the near future we will be faced with a philosophical question: what does it mean to be human? Today: Professor Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project – which aims to reverse engineer the human brain down to the molecular level – told the BBC that a functional human brain could be built within the next 10 years. The article was published in 2009. This year Markram’s project won a €500m grant from the EU.



So the question that will need answering is:
could the Singularity happen? The answer to that is: yes.

Exploring the three fields of science I outlined earlier, I’ll aim to explain how . I’ll ask my interview subjects how far down the path to the Singularity we are; what precursor technologies would we see, do they exist today? How quickly are we moving towards it?

To sum up, I’ll ask perhaps the biggest question of all: if and when the Singularity does happen, what will the consequences be for humanity? What place will we have in a world in which our primacy as a species can only be guaranteed if we merge with our creations?

And if the outlook is bleak, should we continue researching and developing such technologies? Is this race to develop human-level artificial general intelligence the Manhattan Project of our age? Should we tread lightly?

Planning my final project – The Singularity

So the question I’m sure you’ll all be asking is: ‘What is the Singularity?’

According to inventor, futurist, and director of engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil: “It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”Ray Kurzweil

Kurzweil says technology is feeding on itself at an exponential rate, getting faster and faster as new discoveries are made. He predicts that within forty years the pace of change will be so astonishingly quick that the only way to keep up will be by enhancing our own intelligence through merging with our creations.

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Kurzweil’s predictions: one of which is that computers will have consciousness in just twenty-five years, meaning that, if true,
by the 2030s the line between human and machine intelligence will become irrevocably blurred.

How did I find the story?

A couple of years ago I worked in France as a reporter for two B2B websites specialising in covering the latest news about the pharmaceutical industry.

I noticed that a lot seemed to be happening in the fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology – new papers detailing astonishing treatments and drug delivery techniques were being published each day.

But nothing much seemed to make the headlines because they were in various stages of clinical trials – there’s little about be-goggled scientists pacing around a lab to get the average person’s blood pumping.

So I did a bit of looking around and saw there’s this largely unreported technological explosion going on now.

As the public, we only really get to see the most obvious examples of it – things like Google Glass and 3D printed guns, because they’re familiar enough for us to instantly understand, and in the case of Google Glass, there are serious short-term gains to be made out of it.

But there are scientists working all around the world at the coalface of artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, who think we’re on the brink of a new epoch. I decided to find out more.