Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reflections on Avatar by Ray Kurzweil

I recently watched James Cameron's Avatar in 3D. It was an enjoyable experience in some ways, but overall I left dismayed on a number of levels.

It was enjoyable to watch the lush three-dimensional animation and motion capture controlled graphics. I'm not sure that 3D will take over -- as many now expect -- until we get rid of the glasses (and there are emerging technologies to do that, albeit, the 3D effect is not yet quite as good), but it was visually pleasing.

3D information visualization displays and interactive multitouch screens as featured in this scene from "Avatar" already exist and are in use today. (20th Century Fox)
While I'm being positive, I was pleased to see Cameron's positive view of science in that the scientists are "good" guys (or at least one good gal) with noble intentions on learning the wisdom of the Na'vi natives and on negotiating a diplomatic solution.
The Na'vi were not completely technology-free. They basically used the type of technology that Native Americans used hundreds of years ago - same clothing, domesticated animals, natural medicine, and bows and arrows.
They were in fact exactly like Native Americans. How likely is that? Life on this distant moon in another star system has evolved creatures that look essentially the same as earthly creatures, with very minor differences (dogs, horses, birds, rhinoceros-like animals, and so on), not to mention humanoids that are virtually the same as humans here on Earth. That's quite a coincidence.
Cameron's conception of technology a hundred years from now was incredibly unimaginative, even by Hollywood standards. For example, the munitions that were supposed to blow up the tree of life looked like they were used in World War II (maybe even World War I). Most of the technology looked primitive, even by today's standards. The wearable exoskeleton robotic devices were supposed to be futuristic, but these already exist, and are beginning to be deployed. The one advanced technology was the avatar technology itself. Read more.

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