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A mouse's brain will be able to pilot a plane tomorrow: true or false? Will we soon be able to separate our mortal body from our immortal mind? Will the machines we're developing be superior to us one day?Technocalyps is an intriguing documentary on the notion of 'transhumanism'. The latest findings in genetics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology appear in the media every day, but with no analysis of their common aim: that of exceeding human limitations. Frank Theys conducts his enquiry into their scientific, ethical and metaphysical dimensions, interviewing experts and illustrating what they have to say, be it pessimistic or euphoric. Polemical and full of contrasts, the film is accompanied by live music from Francesco Lopez.
Scenario en regie:
Concept & research:
Michel Bauwens, Frank Theys
Hans Van Nuffel
Hans Sonneveld, Chris Renson & Jan Dellaert
Phyllis Digneffe & Rian Koopman
Hans Meijer, Frank Theys
e-Spaces - Philippe Van Nedervelde, Vladimiir Galinsky
Toneelhuis, KVS, Eris, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts
Met de steun van:
Het Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds & Evens Foundation
KVS, KunstenFESTIVALdesArtsBack to top
Science as a generator of creativity Frank Theys on Technocalyps
Het Toneelhuis: What is your documentary about?
Frank Theys: This documentary offers an insight into all the latest technological developments – biogenetics, artificial intelligence, implants, nanotechnology – and their repercussions. In it I interview prominent scientists and people who have written on the subject, and I explore their views on what is going to happen. Most are convinced that we are evolving towards a transhuman phase, towards a future where man will no longer be the most intelligent being on earth because he will have had to give his place to other species – artificial intelligences, genetically improved human beings … It sounds like pure science fiction, but many scientists are convinced that this is what it will be like in just a few decades from now, or what they want it to be like that as soon as possible. I’ve put these new scientific developments side by side in my film. They are all converging towards the same objective: understanding human consciousness so that it can be duplicated, improved and reproduced. Some research is staggering, like Petri dishes containing neurons from a rat that are capable of piloting a plane.
HTH: Some of what the scientists are saying seems particularly incredible and surrealist. To what extent do you yourself believe in all these theories?
Frank Theys: I believe in them to a point. Some can seem very surrealist, but in any case they’re a thousand times less so than the theory that says we all have a soul that goes up to heaven when we die. The people speaking in the film have a much sounder vision of the world. What interests me in a vision is its aesthetics: is it well put together, does it convince me? We are all trying to construct a representation of the world we live in, just like the rat’s neurons in the Petri dishes. But how many representations resist the idea that other creatures perhaps a thousand times more intelligent than us will soon be in circulation here? In this documentary, it is not about – or not only about – knowing whether we are effectively heading straight for a transhuman future, but rather seeing how people are coming to terms with this perspective, how the visions of the world respond that place man at the centre, as if he is the chosen one. We are seeing different theories emerging, notably religious ones, which integrate these new developments into astounding systems of thinking. I find it all fascinating.
HTH: Opponents claim that these scientific developments can only end in the worst scenario of all: the end of the world.
Frank Theys: Absolutely. That’s the drama of it too. Everyone can understand this reluctance because each of us intuitively feels it. Who isn’t suspicious when faced with a strange or new theory, all the more so if it accepts the end of man – or at least the end of his position as the chosen one? However the reasoning in pro-transhumanism is interesting and balanced. Let’s take Earth. It’s going to die out anyway because of pollution, natural catastrophes or simply because of the extinction of the sun in two billion years. If mankind – or simply life – wants to continue, it will have to leave Earth sooner or later. Our body can’t cope with long journeys in space, so there’s no doubt that it’ll be down to artificial intelligences to keep our civilisation going in space. Those in favour of transhumanism advance the theory that we will only be able to ensure the survival of humanity by abandoning it, by confiding our civilisation to other species better able to guarantee the future. That seems grotesque and absurd, but the debate really has begun and it’s an existential drama of major importance. I like it.
HTH: How did you come up with the idea for such a huge project?
Frank Theys: As soon as I discovered the internet at the start of the 1990s I was hooked. I found really inspiring discussion groups for writing dramatic works. I started writing and went to see everyone involved with the internet in Flanders. They all felt a huge need to exchange ideas. I then set up a focus group with a few people, including Michel Bauwens who was then editor-in-chief of the first European cyber magazine Wave. In the end there were just the two of us in this group, everyone else was too tied up with what they were involved in and we preferred to philosophise. So we wrote the script to Technocalyps. Years went by, but our hypothesis remained valid; what is more, with the help of time it became possible to show concrete images of most of the scientific developments that interested us. In 1998, nanotechnology was still derided by Scientific American magazine – no one, except a few eccentrics, thought this technology would be viable. Today a “serious” university is duty bound to have a nanotechnology department. Its first products are even being launched on the market now. Similarly brain function classifications only started with this millennium. Basically Technocalyps couldn’t have been made any earlier.
HTH: What was your aim in making this documentary?
Frank Theys: Above all, it’s a personal voyage of discovery, both philosophically and artistically. My interest in science started because the world of science is increasingly playing an instigating role in all developments in our society. The course of history is always determined by a dominating sector that steers its new developments. In the domain of the arts, literature dominated at the end of the 19th century, painting at the start of the 20th century, cinema after the Second World War, pop music in the 1960s… On a wider scale, you could say that politics played a dominant role at the start of the last century, and economy at the end of it. Today, unobtrusively, scientists are becoming the new authority.
In parallel I find science and technology particular interesting for the changes they are in the process of generating, and especially for the vision of the world that is being created in their wake. The world of science is in the process of producing a new conception of the world that will become a fundamental preoccupation of society over the next ten or twenty years: transhumanism. Whether this thesis is confirmed or not is not what interests me, but the debate in itself. 500 years ago, we had to accept that the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe. 100 years ago, we had to admit that man hadn’t been created out of nothing, but was simply descended from monkeys. Today, we are having to learn to accept that even our intelligence is not that magical and untouchable. Are we able to lift this last taboo? It’s agonising and fascinating at the same time because it’s completely overtaking us.
It is true that since the beginning of time, man has been interested in what is overtaking him. Today, what is overtaking him is gradually becoming tangible: God is an intelligent internet – omnipresent, omniscient and eternal. We can at last follow this conversation, and history can be reinterpreted in its entirety. I wanted to become familiar with the world of science from up close. The best way of doing that was to make a documentary about it because it’s an excellent pretext for visiting people. My intention was also to discover what their mentality is, their conception of the world, their hopes and fears, as well as the environment they live and work in.
HTH: What’s unusual about this documentary is that it really emphasises the drama by being based on scientific foundations. Is art encountering science?
Frank Theys: In my view, science is in a way acting as a generator of creativity. This subject matter lets me give completely free rein to my own fantasy. I am trying to produce images and drama that have to be all the more convincing for being legitimised by science.
HTH: How will your documentary be screened in full?
Frank Theys: The documentary will be shown in three parts, each around 50 minutes long, probably interspersed with breaks. The first part deals with current technological developments and predictions concerning their evolution over the next few decades. In this part I want to clearly show that most scientists are convinced we are on the threshold of a new transhuman era. The second part specifically tackles the question of predictions: at what speed will this evolution happen, how will we react and how are people already preparing for it today? The third and last part focuses mainly on the metaphysical implications of this evolution. Let’s suppose that we are effectively heading straight for a transhuman or post-human future; we could then consider the entire history of humanity as a sort of psychological preparation for this situation. I also examine the extent to which the major religions can truly accept transhuman ideas (which they’ve been predicting for centuries anyway).
I hope that the audience will be just as enthusiastic about what I’m showing, and by the theories and fantasies of the people interviewed in my film.Back to top
The Belgian video artist and film and theatre director Frank Theys (°1963) lives and works in Brussels and Amsterdam. After his philosophy studies in the '80s, he creates together with his brother Koen the video series Lied van mijn Land, an adaptation of Wagner's Ring. The first part of the series is bought by several museums and wins the Prix Arcanal at the III° Festival d'Art Vidéo et de la Télévision in Montbéliard. Subsequently, international success is showered upon Theys: De Walkure has its premiere in 1989 in New York, opening the new video section of The Museum of the Moving Image. In 1991 Theys receives the Bleustein-Blanchet Prize for his entire video oeuvre, and in 1992 he becomes the resident director of Theater Victoria. He writes and directs several plays and produces in 1994 'Van al die die niks te zeggen hebben, zijn die die zwijgen't aangenaamst'. In 1995 he becomes cultural ambassador of Flanders. Frank Theys leaves Victoria in 1996 and gets hold of his first computer editing system. Since then he has made several video films and installations, such as Zelfportret, which won the 2005 9th International Video and New Media Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia.Back to top