the free-spirited child of former hippies, Ben Goertzel intellect is unfettered
by conventional boundaries. Awkwardly, the same might be true of his ethical
judgement. His life-long passion has been to create a high-functioning
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) system through his OpenCog software. Rather
problematically, he does not seem the least bit curious about the Chinese
Government’s motivation for funding his research throughout Roy Cohen’s Machine of Human Dreams, which screens
during DOC NYC 2016.
need to get through the nauseating first ten minutes of Machine before things start to get interesting. Once we get past
accounts of Goertzel’s precocious brilliance and his mother’s lingering
contempt for America, Cohen begins to chronicle Goetzel’s rather checkered
career. The genius programmer met Lisa Pazer, the venture capitalist with whom
he co-founded Webmind through the online personals, even though he already had
a pregnant wife at the time. According to Pazer, they burned through twenty
million dollars, but only earned roughly one hundred thousand dollars in
revenue, which is why Webmind is no more.
has plenty to say in the film, but one thing that stands out is Goertzel’s
track record of disastrous demos. When history repeats itself with the (Beijing
approved and dominated) Hong Kong government, it frankly comes as a relief. As
one of the only conflicted members on Goertzel’s team points out, their work
preparing for the HK government took place during the height of the 2014
Umbrella demonstrations, yet Goertzel never stopped to ask why his funders were
so interested in this technology.
burying the lede were an Olympic sport, Machine
would be a gold medal contender. The relationship between Goertzel and
Beijing’s hand-picked Hong Kong government raises a host of questions, but
Cohen never puts any of them to Goertzel. Like his subject, he is often too
enamored with the cute toy robots whom Goertzel hopes to invest with
enthusiasm is infectious, but the way he keeps landing on his feet after one
professional setback after another is remarkably fortuitous. Both he and the
estranged Wozniak-figure from his Webmind and Simon’s Rock College days credit
science fiction as an early source of inspiration, but nobody seems concerned
about the potential dangers of the Singularity sf regularly explores.
Yes, there is some provocative stuff in Machine, but it is the sort of film that
makes you want to watch the outtakes and possibly re-edit a different cut. Generating wildly mixed responses, Machine
of Human Dreams screens tomorrow (11/13), as part of this year’s DOC NYC.
Labels: Artificial intelligence, DOC NYC '16, Documentary