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Ray Kurzweil visits the Colbert Nation

April 13, 2011 3 comments

Last night, Ray Kurzweil appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss his new video, Transcendent Man.  Because Transcendent Man discusses transhumanism generally, the discussion opened with a film clip and then allowed Kurzweil to discuss transhumanism generally.

I’ve seen the entire Transcendent Man video, and the snippet shown on the Colbert Report is a fair summary. The film itself has (to my mind) a strange turn toward the religious and slightly creepy; I’m not sure if the film really gets across a message about the virtues of transhumanism (though it is discussed throughly) and instead puts the focus on Kurzweil and makes him seem like a creepy prophet. Other interviews suggest that Kurzweil is not nearly so obsessed as Transcendent Man makes him seem (with reviving his father, anyway.)

The Colbert interview, on the other hand, struck more of a techno-idealist tone with the usual Colbert humorous undertone.  As Singularity Hub points out, this interview on the Colbert Report will probably reach a younger (and larger) audience than Kurzweil’s longer interviews on shows like Charlie Rose. Because of the Colbert format, Kurzweil wasn’t able to get too in depth with his research and arguments for The Singularity, but Kurzweil was still able to get the high points across and build some excitement. Given the much vaunted ‘Colbert Bump’ I’d expect to see articles in the next few days saying that downloads of Transcendent Man skyrocketed.

While I’m all in favor of transhumanism gaining more mainstream support, I worry that people who are excited by the Colbert interview will get introduced to transhumanism via Transcendent Man, write off Kurzweil and his associated ideas because of the tone the film takes, and associate believers with the fringe beliefs (at least without a little information as prep) that seem to take center stage in the film. I wish there were a better film to introduce the mainstream to transhumanism; or that the film had mentioned other sources of information like H+.