Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Who doesn’t love a good sci-fi movie? Director Wally Pfister, Johnny Depp and the rest of the cast made the media rounds to promote their latest film, Transcendence. The movie didn't perform well its opening weekend despite the $100 million price sticker for production. Despite the studios', crew's and actors' best efforts, two unsung heroes take the spotlight in this week’s blog post.

Prior to filming, Pfister made a trip to UC-Berkeley to visit two scientists who possess very specific and invaluable knowledge for the film project. Jose Carmena, PhD, who is also co-director of the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses, is a prominent researcher and authority in brain-machine interface systems. And Michel Maharbiz, PhD, co-director of the Sensor and Actuator Center and Swarm Lab at UC-Berkeley, is famously known for helping develop the world’s first remote-controlled cyborg beetle.

Carmen and Maharbiz went on to serve as consultants on the film, even going over the script with Pfister, line by line, to vet the science of the film.

“I wanted these guys to flag anything that looked really stupid,” Pfister said in an interview with UC-Berkeley. “To have them there [on set] was really magical for us. It was like having a security blanket.”

The freakiness of artificial intelligence has intrigued the masses for years, but the concept (as both a sci-fi subgenre and scientific field) is gaining more and more steam. Who could forget IBM’s brainchild Watson? Others have since caught on. Google acquired artificial intelligence company DeepMind and launched its Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab last year. Facebook also opened its own AI lab, and one of its more recent computer intelligence projects demonstrated astonishingly accurate facial recognition.

It’s not hard to see why there is so much buzz and excitement in this cross-section of neuroscience and tech — We are making our computer faster and smarter. So smart, in fact, that some researchers reported computer systems can learn from experience

But back to the basic premise of Transcendence: Is it possible to actually upload a mind into a computer? Experts say, theoretically, yes. Without delving too deeply into the theory and ethical/existential implications of technological singularity (Google at your own risk), it’s safe to say the possibility of human-machine is mind-boggling, exciting and.. scary. As with anything that possesses great power, there is potential for both good and ill. Here’s a great LA Times feature that more deeply explores the reality of artificial intelligence.

“Technology is progressing faster and faster,” Maharbiz said to UC-Berkely. “And if that continues, something amazing, and potentially perilous, is going to happen.” 

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