Interview: Avi Zev Weider (Director: ‘Welcome to the Machine’)

Upon becoming the father to triplets, filmmaker Avi Zev Weider explores the nature of technology. Woven together with expert interviews and portraits of people who have intimate relationships with technology, “Welcome To The Machine” takes the conversation away from the business of technology or the latest gadgets and leads the audience to ultimately consider questions of life and death, revealing that all discussions about technology are really about what it means to be human.

In seeking to clarify these questions, and deal with his new and difficult reality, the filmmaker engages futurists, scientists, scholars, anti-technology advocates and even Ted Kaczynski, aka the ‘Unabomber,’ to uncover a big-picture view of our ongoing relationship to technology. These interviews explore issues like: What is the origin of technology? Is technology ‘neutral’ or does is have an ‘intent?’ In a world of high technology, what is value of living things?

We talked to Avi Zev Weider about ‘Welcome to the Machine‘, as well as the roots of technological policy, radical interpretations of technological advancement and the weighing of morality in unmanned warfare.  The film will play in Brooklyn at the ReRun Theater from Friday, January 11 – Thursday, January 17, 2013

What was the strategy when combining the different story lines of ‘Welcome to the Machine’?  The documentary goes between several subjects including drone technology, techno-philosophy, as well as your own family structure.  As a filmmaker, how did you approach maintaining a coherent narrative?
My strategy was to throw away my preconceived notions of how to put together a documentary. I was pretty tired of watching movies with the same structure over and over again – especially docs. I had started down that path and the film was getting very bogged down and boring, in my opinion. So, I just told myself that I didn’t care about anything else, I just wanted to make the movie in the way I wanted to see it, and if anything it would be more like a poem than an essay. In that vein, I very often used a more associative method of joining scenes together so instead of ‘what comes after what,’ it became ‘what goes with what.’

Where does the issue of technological advancement as portrayed in this film fall in the privatized vs. regulated debate?  Is technological advancement an inherent federal responsibility due to its severe socio-economic repercussions or is it best left to the organic nature of free enterprise?
You cannot regulate technological advancement. I think one can and should regulate the access and to certain pieces of technology (like nuclear bombs) or restrict access to kinds of knowledge (recipes for bioweapons), but no government on the planet can stop the accelerating rate of technological change.

Did you attempt to have a sit down interview with Ted Kaczynski?  How did you gauge the nature and tone of your written correspondence with him?  Is their any validity in his technological criticism?
I did attempt to do an in-person with Ted Kaczynski. However, due to his celebrity status and the very strict regulations for such activities for federal prisoners in supermax prisons, it was impossible. Kaczynski runs hot and cold. He’s very particular about how he wants to be portrayed and over the course of our correspondence, became increasingly difficult for me to maintain. As to his criticism, I would say you ought to read his Manifesto and decide for yourself. You may be surprised at just how much you might find yourself agreeing with him.

Did you happen to gauge how prominent the Ted Kaczynski philosophy is amongst the techno-philosophical crowd?
Not really. I will say that it’s not a monolithic ‘crowd,’ just as most aren’t. However, his writing and his actions are prominent.

I enjoyed the fact that you included the debate over Ted Kaczynski, but it does take the film into a much darker direction then most of the rest.  Was there ever a decision to be made in omitting this aspect of the narrative?
Absolutely not. Not to address the ‘darker’ aspects of our relationship to technology would be, in my opinion, a rejection of reality.

How prominent a role did you find faith and religion played in the research/beliefs of the subjects that you interviewed?
It depended on the interviewee. Ray Kurzweil and I discussed religion, but in a manner completely different than when I spoke with Kevin Kelly.

I found Ray Kurzweil’s immortality theory to be a very interesting part of the documentary, where he essentially says that eventually hard drives will be cellular in size, thus allowing human beings to enjoy, at least, an intellectual immortality.  In your personal view, would such a hypothetical practice cause as significant a debate as to the nature of the human being or is it just an accepted inevitability?
This is inevitable, as our machines become more human-like, and we integrate more machine computation into ourselves. This is why I agree that one of the most important questions we can begin to ask ourselves now is ‘what is the value of living things?’

In regards to drone technology, did you ever feel that a discussion on increased war technology in relation to economic interest had a place in this film?
Definitely not. My aim was not to make a case for or against the use of drones. It was to allow the viewer to experience what it is like for someone to train and use this technology – to sit inside a machine and interact with the world directly, but from a distance.

Finally, on a much less philosophical note, I have always had an interest in the choices of font used in production materials.  Can you explain why you chose the minimal, pencil-line font for ‘Welcome to the Machine’?  Why was this the right one for your film?The type was created by Demetrie Tyler, who was initially going to be a major part of the film. His generated artwork, drawn by a computer using data sets returned from a Google query, are in effect a reverse Turing Test and force the viewer to consider his or her role in granting ‘intelligence’ to a machine. I first saw his work at MoMA – ‘Hypothetical Drawings About The End Of The World.’ The primitive handwritten nature of the type is a conceit, as it is his hand, but then translated by a computer.

Purchase TicketsHERE

Friday, January 11 – Thursday, January 17, 2013
Filmmaker Magazine, IFP & reRun Theater Present
@ reRun Theater
147 Front St. Brooklyn, NY
: /WelcometotheMachineMovie
: /wtothemachine



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