Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Transcendence

As a researcher, movies about Artificial Intelligence have me primed for failure before I even step foot in the theatre. It’s a broadly-defined field which is (at best) decades away from being ethically interesting, but sometimes screenwriters — much like Tech Crunch writers, random commenters on CNN, and a few multi-million dollar startups — can’t help but embellish. Which is fine. People who know the science will groan, but we don’t always watch movies expecting realism. If it presents an internally consistent world, where invented premises lead to interesting conclusions, I’ve got no problem suspending disbelief (see: Her).

Transcendence couldn’t quite do either. Realism was hilariously tossed out the moment any “scientist” had a line of dialogue, and for all the premises it set up for its characters, it was too afraid to take them anywhere compelling. Instead we got the standard “absolute power corrupts absolutely” story, where ethical dilemmas turn into obvious good-vs-evil battles and characters change their minds for absolutely no reason except soundtrack cues. Solid production values and some genuinely interesting ideas make it better than its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests. But even though they tried every tool in the box (language processing, cryptography, and coding), they couldn’t quite make a fun movie.

See my review on Letterboxd