Saturday, May 18, 2013

Living close to Google, the World Brain

If you live in San Francisco it feels kind of like a betrayal to your city or at least to the local companies if you go and watch a movie like "Google and the World Brain". And this is exactly what my American friend Sophia and I did last week during the San Francisco Film Festival. As Sophia works for YouTube I was  curios if she would like the movie and even more surprised that she even wanted to see it. In the end she liked it...or at least that was my impression when she said: "Even if I would never assume that Google would wanna harm anyone by setting up this book scanning project I think it is good that the world observes critically what large and powerful companies such as Google work on." And then she added with a smile: " And of course the most critical observer is Germany again ... Hanni, you guys are always soo serious and critical." 

I actually loved the movie and I believe much more in the potential that Google might harm or harmed already e.g. authors with 'Google Books'. Maybe as well the fact that I am an author contributes to this opinion.

But let me give you an overview about the movie: 

Using H.G. Wells’ prophetic declarations of a “complete planetary memory for all mankind,” or a “World Brain” as his springboard, the London-based  filmmaker Ben Lewis gathers library administrators, Google engineers and futurists to offer a big picture examination of the Google Book Scanning Project. Lewis travels the globe from the shiny Googleplex in Mountain View to the 11th-century Monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain, to capture the vast undertaking that is Google Books and to contemplate the future of libraries, technology, money and intellectual property. While the visual highlight of Lewis’ extensive travels is a six-second clip of a super-secret Google Scanning Facility, Google and the World Brain is about more than algorithms and tech. It’s about the dream of building “a library to last forever” and the true cost in attaining that dream.

Lewis wisely takes a collagist’s approach to the subject, mingling the prophecies of H. G. Wells and the words of Franz Kafka with monks in Spain presiding over enormous supercomputers. He throws cranky infotech visionaries like William Gibson, Lawrence Lessig, and Evgeny Morozov into the mix. It’s a head-spinning, highly provocative piece of cinema, like a more accessible companion to Lutz Dammbeck’s 2003 film-essay,The Net: The Unabomber, LSD, and the Internet. Frightening future scenarios and overall mood aside, not to mention the fact that he describes Google’s uncooperative behaviour during production as ”appalling”, Lewis feels that he’s created a balanced work. And that is my perception as well. 

BTW, for me the most memorable statement was " A book is not just an extra-long tweet" from Internet scholar Jaron Lanier.