Art imitates academia

May 1, 2014
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Spring 2014

Jose Carmena and Michel MaharbizJose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz (Photo by Travis Massey)More than 200 people packed a campus auditorium in early April for a Q&A and screening of segments of the film Transcendence, a sci-fi thriller directed by Wally Pfister, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer. Pfister answered questions about Berkeley’s role in the film, along with professors Jose Carmena and Michel Maharbiz of electrical engineering and computer sciences.

“What is consciousness?” asked Carmena at the campus screening. “We actually don’t really know what it is, or how to define it. We cannot measure it. All we can do is to describe our own subjective experience.”

On screen, the actor Johnny Depp plays the role of an artificial intelligence scientist, Will Caster, whose brain is uploaded to a quantum computer.

During production, Maharbiz and Carmena provided Pfister with a primer in neural engineering and the potential connections between human and computer brains. They discussed the most recent advances in nanotechnology and organic-synthetic interfaces, as well as projections for what could be possible in the next 20 to 50 years. Not only did the researchers pore over the script line-by-line, they also flew down to Los Angeles to meet with Pfister and his team on set.

Beyond the science, the film also heavily references Berkeley, including shots of the Campanile.

Read more: Neuroengineers bring science cred, Berkeley feel to ‘Transcendence’ film

Topics: EECS, Faculty