TV documentary – Treatment and Audience

Well, this – as far as I’m aware – has never been covered on the radio – I don’t really think the subject lends itself very well to that, it needs to be visual.

In TV, there was a film documentary made in the US about Ray Kurzweil, called Transcendent Man, but It focusses more on the man himself and his thoughts about the singularity.

Nothing much has been produced in the UK – although my research tells me there are plenty of people here to speak to.

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To that end, I’ll be making a documentary in the style of  BBC Two’s Horizon series. Horizon airs for 60 minutes, and has been going since the 1960s, and its format has changed a lot over the years.

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Mine will more closely resemble the modern version, which has a strong narrative, with an underlying investigative theme. It will begin with a tease, with fast cuts laying out what the programme’s about, then titles, and on into the main part of the show.

There will be no presenter, just a narrator – so no PTCs or noddys. I’m planning to end it with a montage of talking heads to create a sense of summary. I’m not afraid of featuring talking heads, as it’s in keeping with the style of Horizon, but I will also make sure I film plenty of cutaway material.

In terms of pictures – I’ll have the ones from my interviews. Some of the people I’m interviewing work with some really weird and wonderful gadgets and robots. I’ll also get my subjects to strike some poses, allowing me to mess about with backgrounds and SFX in Adobe After Effects.

I’m also thinking of using bits of archive footage in the programme – not as an alternative to cutaways, but alongside them. I’m going to be using footage from news reports and films to illustrate my points. I know the footage I want, it’s just a case of seeing if I’ll need to get clearance and making the necessary arrangements to avoid breaching copyright laws. I’m also using specially made music throughout, which will take some time to produce, but will remove the need for me to contact artists and record labels.

Engaging the audience

Horizon has it’s own audience: generally the kind of people who have an interest in this kind of thing, so hopefully my target viewers will be keen to sit through the programme without feeling let down that it doesn’t feature a car chase, or a shootout.

The Singularity, today…

Why is the documentary relevant now?

As I write this, research is underway that could help bring about the Singularity. Yet some believe that far from solving some of our biggest problems – poverty, disease, hunger, and the destruction of the environment, to name but a few – the convergence of these nascent technologies could present a grave and existential threat to humanity.

So serious are these concerns that across the world dozens of scholars at respected academic institutes have devoted themselves to trying to predict the impact, good and bad, that new technology could have on us as a species.

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Why is this important?

Well, they’re working against a backdrop of rapidly accelerating technological change the likes of which we have never seen. The internet as we know it is barely 30 years old; the mobile phone is not much older. Between them they have changed the world we live in beyond all recognition, and yet today the pace of change is far quicker. Computer processor power continues to double every two years in accordance with Moore’s law, with commentators such as Ray Kurzweil predicting that computers will match our brains for sheer processing power by the early 2020s.

And it may happen sooner than that. Professor Henry Markram’s ambitious Blue Brain Project is attempting to reverse-engineer the human brain. Markram believes he can do this by the end of this decade, and the EU seems to agree.

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.

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Aims:

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.