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James Cameron, never without his Rolex Submariner
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James Cameron, never without his Rolex Submariner

Friday, 05 April 2019
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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6 min read

As the writer and producer of Alita, the story of a teenage cyborg with super-powers, James Cameron returns to his favourite genre of science fiction – and the underwater world he cares deeply about.

The world-renowned director and environmental activist James Cameron took a break from filming the sequel to Avatar to talk about his passion for the underwater world and… the Rolex Submariner!

After watching Alita: Battle Angel, you can't help but wonder what the world will be like in 500 years, and whether artificial intelligence will have taken control.

It’s an interesting idea, although Alita is about putting human brains into cyborg bodies, which is a different subject to AI. As we go further into the future, I think there will be an increased use of highly sophisticated prosthetic devices connected to the brain. Doctors will be able to use signals from the cortex to restore motor function to people with paraplegia or tetraplegia.

Do you think androids will one day be a threat to human society?

I think it’s already happening, only we don’t want to admit it. According to the top scientists in AI, in less than fifty years, machine intelligence will equal human intelligence. A human brain has around 100 billion neurones. We’ll be outpaced by machines. It’s my belief that the twenty-first century will be dominated by massively intelligent machines, and that we’ll be able to upload huge amounts of artificial memory into organic brains. Conversely, positronic brains will be able to contain parts of a human brain. Total fusion. Evolutive engineering will work towards resolving the complexity of creating an artificial brain. The idea is to adapt a programming technique known as genetic algorithms. Obviously we need to consider the consequences of this technology. We’re looking ahead to what scientists are already calling “artilects”; hyper-evolved machines that will ultimately be far more intelligent than humans.

You've been called the Canadian Jules Verne, but who is your greatest inspiration?

Ray Harryhausen. He was one of the most brilliant visual effects designers of the past decades. He was hugely influential. When I was a kid, I was blown away by the incredible monsters and creatures he created, for Jason and the Argonauts for example. He, along with Stanley Kubrick and his 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the reason I wanted to become a filmmaker. Then one day, movies were no longer enough. My imagination was at a standstill. That’s when I started devouring books and scientific reports. I’d stay up until all hours, reading by the light of a diving lamp. Much later, at college, I studied astronomy and physics.

I always knew that Rolex made the best dive watches.
James Cameron
In 2012 you set a record when you descended 10,898 metres inside the Deepsea Challenger.

I make films in order to finance my expeditions, not the other way round. You don’t have to go into space to see the most extraordinary creatures. Dive three metres into a coral reef at night, and you’ll meet creatures even a sci-fi author could never have imagined.

You have a strong connection with Rolex. How did that begin?

I always knew that Rolex made the best dive watches. It launched its first “watertight” watch in 1926 and has continued to make advances ever since. One day, I was asked if I would become an ambassador for this prestigious brand. I’ve worn a Submariner for over thirty years so it seemed natural to accept. I was even fortunate enough to visit the factory in Geneva. I was impressed by the mix of traditional and modern. I’m a huge fan of robotics and science fiction, so you can imagine how excited I was to see robots on the production line.

What do you look for in a watch?

Reliability and precision are the two areas where there can be no compromising. When you’re diving, you have to be able to rely on your instruments. Your life depends on it. I was able to see how amazing a Rolex watch is during the Deepsea Challenger dive. We attached a Rolex to the submersible’s robotic arm and it continued to function normally even at the deepest point.

I fear there's nothing we can do to save the ocean.
James Cameron
You gave your Rolex Submariner to the chief of an indigenous Amazon tribe. How did that happen?

When it came to inventing the Na’vi language in Avatar, I didn’t get up one morning and think, “OK, I’m going to down a bottle of whisky in one and record whatever comes out of my mouth!” It’s not some gobbledygook but an actual language that we constructed with a renowned professor of linguists. Once we had the vocabulary, we worked on the positioning of the characters’ tongue so that speech would flow. I also carried out a substantial amount of research into indigenous cultures, and it’s as an activist for these indigenous people that I met Raoni, the leader of the Kayapo people who live deep in the Amazon forest. He welcomed me by giving me gifts of things that had great meaning to him. I had to think of something which had identical value for me, as a way to express my gratitude. So I gave him my Rolex Submariner. It wasn’t a sacrifice. It was a token of friendship.

How do you see the future of our oceans?

Fifty years from now, we’ll have nothing but regrets. Scientists agree that climate change is destroying marine habitat faster than it is land-based ecosystems. Ocean warming, species extinction and migration, coral bleaching, destruction of habitat… these are dramatic consequences and humans are to blame. Oceans account for 70% of the planet’s surface yet only 4% are protected. It’s a ridiculous figure compared with the enormous damage being done to marine ecosystems. Illegal fishing, dredging, plastic pollution, pollution from nuclear waste, tourism…. all these activities have one common denominator: people. We have to understand that ocean pollution goes beyond political divides. The ocean doesn’t vote. It’s not Republican or Democrat. We need to be more courageous in tackling climate change. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide is causing ocean acidification. Fundamentally, this is what will kill ocean life, starting at the bottom of the food chain. Diatoms [microalgae that generate a quarter of the oxygen we breathe] won’t be able to form their shells. I fear there’s nothing we can do to save the ocean. The clock is ticking for mass extinction. The problem is that we elect idiots who stand around whistling with their hands in their pockets when the world is on a cliff edge. Do I make myself clear?

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