Notwithstanding Kurzweil's certainty, many people are unpersuaded by his ideas—particularly in some of the medical and technical fields that he says will soon be transformed, and even among thinkers who respect him otherwise. As Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, remarks on camera, "What Ray does consistently is to take a whole bunch of steps that everybody agrees on and take principles for extrapolating that everybody agrees on and show they lead to things that nobody agrees on," because "they just seem crazy."
As seen in the film, Kurzweil's response to those who don't share his perspective on technologically enhanced transcendence, particularly on the life-extension topic, is not unkind but patronizing. He realizes, he says, that people feel "threatened" by these ideas but that they will eventually accept the incremental realizations of that progress. He never seems to credit that well-informed people might disagree or disapprove of his views for reasons that have nothing to do with their own fallibility or weakness—but rather that they might be right and he might be wrong.
Similarly, Kurzweil views his own rejection of death as the only appropriate response. People who say they have learned to accept mortality are fooling themselves, he tells the camera; society numbly glorifies death because it has surrendered to it. The possibility that Kurzweil's stubborn disdain for death might spring from neurotic denial rather than from intellectual independence is apparently absurd to him.
Indeed, Kurzweil's attitude toward the idea of his own fallibility was on display in the question-and-answer session after the New York City screening of Transcendent Man. An audience member asked him about what he had gotten wrong over the years. Kurzweil mentioned that he had recently written a 150-page review of his predictions to date and concluded that about 86 percent of them were correct. (Disclosure: having taken my own look at his predictions, I have a rather different assessment—see here, here and here.) Pressed to name something he had gotten wrong, Kurzweil mentioned that he had predicted self-piloting cars to be common by now. But he hastened to point to out Google had recently tested its own autonomous vehicles that had driven themselves over 225,000 kilometers on busy roads, which meant that such vehicles would indeed be coming, just not for a few more years.
That is Kurzweil's view of his failures in a nutshell: to him, his errors are simply predictions for which essential correctness has not yet been demonstrated.
Kurzweil's manner—undemonstrative, measured, confidently detached—can seem cold, especially when he talks so matter-of-factly about shucking off the human condition as we know it. With good reason, the filmmakers work to find the warmer, quirkier soul inside Kurzweil—and to some degree they succeed. They reveal the inventor and futurist as a loving family man who has worn a Mickey Mouse watch for 30 years and lives in a beautiful house adorned with hundreds of awards and honors, a poster of Alanis Morissette and roughly 300 cat figurines. He is someone who declared early in life that he would transform the lives of the blind and deaf with his inventions, and the warm receptions that he receives from groups with those disabilities prove he made good on that promise.
Still, at times the film may work to make Kurzweil more relatable than he is. After the New York screening an audience member asked Kurzweil why it was hurtful when people called him a "crackpot." "On what basis do you think it bothers me?" Kurzweil replied. The viewer pointed out that it happened in the film during a radio call-in show, and the camera seemed to freeze on his sad expression. "The film didn't show my actual reaction," Kurzweil said. Ptolemy, who was also on stage, did not comment.