Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lo and Behold

I'd been waiting for Werner Herzog's new documentary about cyberspace, & I finally caught it on the last day it was playing at a neighborhood theater. Lo and Behold was originally conceived as a series of promotional videos for the network management company NetScout, but in Herzog's hands it turned into a feature-length documentary. The film is in 10 pithy chapters, on topics ranging from the creation of the Internet, to colonizing Mars, to reading the brain's thoughts directly. Herzog interviews engineers, scientists, businessmen & hackers, as well as people who have in some way been victims of technology.

In the opening segment, Leonard Kleinrock, a chipper UCLA professor, enthusiastically shows off the 1st computer on the Internet, as the overture to Das Rheingold plays on the soundtrack, & the rest of the movie is similarly layered with ideas. I was delighted to see an interview with Ted Nelson, computer visionary & weirdo who invented an alternative version of hypertext decades before the World Wide Web. He is Herzog's kind of guy.

I had no idea that fabled hacker Kevin Mitnick would be so cheerful & such a terrific story teller. His talent for social engineering might be more dangerous than his computer skills. I felt I needed to learn more about the story of cybersleuth Shawn Carpenter, who is far too casual describing how to get spyware onto someone's computer.

There are plenty of odd moments. I could not help staring at the pile of pastries in front of the pained Catsouras family, who describe the trauma caused by photos leaked onto the Internet. The sight of orange-robed monks checking their cellphones on the Chicago lakefront prompts Herzog to wonder, "Have the monks stopped meditating?" Elon Musk looks preoccupied & worried, even before Herzog volunteers to go to Mars in one of his spaceships.

Some of the ideas presented are highly speculative, but I love that Herzog gets provocative answers when he ask experts if the Internet dreams of itself. I am skeptical of the brain scientists' frightening claims to be able to read thoughts, but it seems quite valid for physicist Lawrence Krauss to ask, "Will our children's children's children need the companionship of humans, or will they have evolved in a world where that's not important?" It all adds up to a feeling that we are at a turning point in human consciousness.

§ Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016)
A film by Werner Herzog 
98 min., USA

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