Futurist Ray Kurzweil: 3 things Hollywood always gets wrong

Contributed by
Default contributor image
Marc Bernardin
Dec 17, 2012

Sci-fi has been a crucial part of cinema since its birth, when Melies took A Trip to the Moon. But despite the work of some of pop culture's greatest fantasists, movies and TV still gets mired in the same muck when it comes to portraying the future—and Lost's Damon Lindelof coaxed the truth from the father of the Singularity.

In advance of giving the keynote address at this year's South by Southwest festival, Kurzweil sat down for a wide-ranging talk with Lindelof, which kicked off with the ways Hollywood always short-changes the future.

1. New technologies exist in a vacuum

"There's an issue in portraying the future, which, if you follow my reasoning, will be very different in every dimension. And as soon as you introduce even a single change, you've got to explain what it is. Spielberg's A.I. [Artificial Intelligence] had human-level cyborgs, but otherwise it was a 1980s reality: The coffeemaker was 1980s; the cars were no different; there's really no virtual reality to speak of. Nothing changed except he introduced this new concept, and then you had some dramatic tension about people's relationships with this new thing. There's actually a reason for that, and it takes cinematic storytelling time to explain what the heck is this new concept. If he introduced 15 new concepts, you're bogged down."

2. The idea that technology will be our undoing

"[There] is a predilection for dystopian visions, which feeds into a general negative perspective on technology, that technology is making the world worse and that it's got malevolent intent. So in most A.I. movies, the A.I.s are not friendly, and it's really remarkable how much negative perspective people have about, is the world getting better or worse, and to what extent is technology responsible for it getting worse? Because in reality we have much better knowledge and information about what's wrong with the world. So there's a battle in Fallujah or a starving child in Nigeria and we hear about it, and being an empathetic species, we want to do something about it. We can't always do that, so we feel things are going awry. It's not like these problems didn't exist centuries ago. I think it would be useful if the movies portrayed a more realistic view of technology.

3. The future will be filled with the new, because the pace of innovation is historically fast

"I've also remarked how little content you can feed into a movie. The experience I've had with a couple of small indie movies and working now on a couple of Hollywood projects, there's actually very little content in the script. You know, it's 100 pages with very thick margins, there's not a lot of content you can put in there. ... Because of the law of accelerating returns, the availability of information and information resources, bandwidth and computing and memory and communications is doubling. Approximately once a year these information technologies double in power, and today you can get an entire human genome for a few thousand dollars. The first one was a billion dollars. The computer I'm talking to you on right now is several thousand times more powerful than the computer that cost tens of millions of dollars that we all shared as students in MIT and took up half the building. People don't appreciate the radical implications of exponential growth."

For the rest of the conversation, which includes Lindelof's admission of his fondness for boobs, check out The Hollywood Reporter.