Transcendence vs. Lucy

This month I had the opportunity to watch both Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, and Lucy, starring Scarlett Johnansson. As I was watching, I noticed some striking similarities, which I’m going to go into here.

SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH MOVIES.

Human Gods

In Transcendence, Johnny Depp uploads his brain into a computer just before he dies of radiation poisoning. He becomes an artificial intelligence and, with his new resources, instantly becomes smarter than everyone else on the planet put together. He uses his intelligence to invent new technologies, including nanotechnology. He infects human beings with his technology, allowing him to control them, and he spreads nanites all over the planet, giving him vision and control over everything that happens on the planet.

Lucy takes a different path to get to a similar place. According to the movie, human beings only use 10% of our brains at a time. Scarlett Johansson is accidentally dosed with a new drug that allows her to utilize more than that. As she gradually increases her brainpower, she gains new abilities, including control over gravity and magnetics, the ability to read and manipulate electronic signals, the ability to read minds and control people, and eventually, total knowledge of everything that ever happened in the universe. In the end, she abandons her body and is “everywhere.”

Emotion

As I was watching Lucy, the first thing that struck me (and it hit me pretty hard) was that both God-beings totally lose all visible emotion as soon as they are upgraded. They are totally stonefaced from their moment of transcendence until the end of the movie, and this in spite of being emotional beings beforehand. Scarlett Johansson in particular is highly emotional during the first part of the movie, in which she is kidnapped and assaulted. Johnny Depp’s loss of visible emotion seems more understandable, since he was uploaded into a computer, except he is still capable of emotion, as evidenced by his decision to die for love. He just… goes blank.

From what I can tell, the idea is that anyone who is superhumanly intelligent will become disconnected from their feelings. This doesn’t seem right to me! In the real world, smart people are just as emotional as dumb people! In my mind, both movies lost a few points for that one.

Weakness

In this case, Lucy and Transcendence took totally different paths. In Lucy, Johansson becomes indestructible as soon as she gains her powers. She is impossible to surprise because she knows everything; she seems immune to injury and feels no pain; and she can manipulate the things and people around her as easily as thought. She wins utter victory in every battle, every time, regardless of the odds against her. In the end, she learns everything, abandons her body, and becomes everywhere at once.

Depp gains similar powers, though they are not as pronounced. He is pitted against a small group of radicals who fear his artificial intelligence. At first they seem to win small victories against him; for example, they kidnap one of Depp’s nanite-controlled people, cut him off from the signal that lets Depp control him, and execute him. Later on, as Depp’s powers and nanonet spread, it becomes clear that physical force is totally useless against him. Faced with a bombardment, he instantly repairs all damage to his facilities, then uses his nanites to melt the weaponry and restrain his attackers. That is, until the end of the movie. The radicals injure Depp’s wife; to heal her, he must assimilate her; and upon assimilation, he will absorb a virus that will destroy him. He knowingly accepts his own death in order to save his wife. The transcendent man is utterly destroyed by a single weakness in the name of love.

I’m going to step aside here for a moment to complain about this one. This is a BIG Death-Star-exhaust-port moment, and it just doesn’t work. The idea is that the man who programmed Depp’s AI included a weakness, a self-destruct if you will, deep inside the code. Come on. The very first thing AI-Depp does upon waking is improve his code. You’re telling that in the years that followed, he never noticed a self-destruct button inside himself? And he knew that his wife had a virus, and that assimilating her would kill him! Why didn’t he put some simple firewall in place before absorbing her?

Goodness

This is the last point that I’ll touch on. Goodness. In both movies, these transcendent people are good. They bend their entire effort to helping people, to improving humanity.

Depp invents immortality and offers it to everyone. He spreads nanite all over the world to fix the pollution damage that people had caused! He never once hurts a single human being, even when they attack him. The mind control that he invented looks scary, but then he never misuses it. Nobody is ever forced to do anything against their will. In fact, they hardly seem to notice him most of the time.

Lucy instantly devotes herself to giving knowledge to the human race, culminating in a single flash drive containing knowledge of everything, which she gladly gives to human scientists. It seems to be her purpose in life. Whereas she could have used her powers for wealth or dominance, she instead chose to improve the human race. I need to mention something here, though: she seems to lose all interest in individual human lives. She (completely unnecessarily) shoots someone on the operating table, saying that he “wasn’t going to make it anyways.” In one car scene, she is in a hurry, so she causes dozens of cars around her to crash spectacularly, leading, I am sure, to the injury and death of many people.

But I like the overall idea of both movies: that a person, given vast knowledge and power, will choose to use it for good.

Conclusion

I’m happy with both of these movies, although I preferred Transcendence. Lucy’s casual treatment of human life was a bit too strong for my taste.

One day, we human beings will transcend. We all have godliness inside of us. I look forward to that day.

The Paycheck Fairness Act

Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the Paycheck Fairness Act today. A lot of liberal people were OUTRAGED by this, saying “every single Republican in the US Senate voted against equal pay for equal work for women today. Unreal.” I decided to sit down and see what’s really going on.

The Paycheck Fairness act is supposed to extend the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires employers to not discriminate wages on the basis of sex. It is allowable for people to receive different wages on the basis of seniority, merit, quantity of production, or “any factor other than sex.”

All this is in response to a startling and controversial statistic by the Census Bureau that women’s median annual earnings were 77.5% of men’s earnings (see page 12). This is controversial because it has been frequently, badly misunderstood to mean that women earn 77.5% of the income of men for doing the same work. This is completely false. The report totals the money earned by men and by women and divides by the total number of men and women. It does NOT account for time spent unemployed, or for the job choice of men and women. Women are more likely to take time off work for family and to seek lower-paying employment than men.

This got a bunch of people to run around complaining that the nation’s employers are sexist and that legal checks need to be put in place.

The new Paycheck Fairness Act adds a bunch of new clauses, most of which look fairly minor or reasonable to me. Here are two quotes that explain why Republicans disagree with it so strongly:

McConnell also said he opposes the underlying legislation because it would “line the pockets of trial lawyers” instead of truly helping women. Source.

Here’s the other.

Under existing law, companies can respond to a new hire’s prior pay history or compensation demands.  For example, Fair Pay Shipping Co. decides it wants to hire shipping managers and pay them $30,000.  It offers employment to John and Sally.  Sally accepts the $30,000, but John demands $33,000, which the company agrees to pay.  Under the existing statute, probably no problem, because the law currently says that an employer is not liable if it paid John and Sally differently for “a reason other than sex.”  The same would be true if Fair Pay Shipping Co. decided to pay each new hire $1,000 more than they made in their previous employment, and John made more than Sally in their previous jobs.

The result would be very different under the Paycheck Fairness Act, which eliminates the “reason other than sex” defense and substitutes instead a requirement that the employer prove that its pay practices are divorced from any discrimination in its workplace or at the employee’s prior workplace, that the pay practice is job related, and that it is consistent with “business necessity.” Source.

 

Tumblr In Action and Gay People

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at reddit.com/r/tumblrinaction. I go there for a bit of fun sometimes. The idea is that users of Tumblr tend to have really sexist and racist ideas, and users of Reddit gather them and post them to Reddit so they can make fun of them.

I look at this stuff for fun, mostly, but here’s some real-world, useful things that I’ve learned:

  • There is a significant number of radical feminists who are completely opposed to all men.
  • There are a significant number of nonwhite people who hate all white people, believing that if all white people would vanish, everything would instantly become a paradise. And they’re serious about it.
  • There is a movement claiming that words like “sexist” and “racist” can only be applied to men and white people, respectively, because it’s impossible to be racist towards the “ruling class.” In other words, minority people can say “I hate all white people” without being racist.
  • Even among the more “normal” liberal parts of the world (read: Reddit), there is significant support for transsexual and homosexual people. As a Mormon born-and-raised with an anti-gay father and not too much contact with the liberal world, this came as something of a surprise to me. (Here I should insert that my dad is opposed to gay ACTIVITY, but he loves and helps people no matter their inclinations).

I am an undying supporter of the Church, which opposes gay activity in a gentle but unyielding manner. (see section V). I hear it argued that gay people can’t help their inclinations, and that our society is evil for condemning it. I say “HOGWASH.” As a thoroughly straight person, I have no idea what it’s like to be gay, but I believe in self-control. The Church (and every other institution) asks us to do a lot of things that require self-control. Asking a gay person not to have sex is no different from asking an unmarried person not to have sex. The animal part of me has wanted to do it for half my life, but I’ve exercised self-control and not done it.

This really helps me to understand what Church leaders mean when they talk about growing permissiveness in the world. “People should do whatever they want to do,” we hear in the news and on TV. And I can kind of understand where they’re coming from. The world has forgotten faith and remembers only reason, and it’s hard for science to show that things like pornography and promiscuity are really bad for people.

There’s my two cents.