Calgary International Film Festival 2013 - Google and the World Brain

Posted on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Review Type: Festival

Google and the World Brain

Review by Troy Steinke

There's no doubt in my mind that Google has made me smarter. Day in and day out I tap away to my hearts content, absorbing every bit and byte with endless ferocity. It's amazing what the Information Age has tossed on our collective doorsteps. At any given moment, we can decide to change our whole perspective within a few keystrokes. Enlightenment is always just a click away. But there are dangers in abandoning the printed word in favour of it's back-lit counterpart. 'Google and the World Brain' seeks to explore what free, unrestricted access to information has meant to the publishing business in recent years.

For generations the printing press has stood as a testament to information quality. Although the internet is filled with all kinds of useful discourse, how can we distinguish the value of from For us fleshy types, it's not that hard. An artificial intelligence (i.e. Google) on the other hand, might need a bit of help. To no ones surprise, it's the brainy folks at Google who came up with a solution. Forget all that digital clutter and get to the good stuff: Books.

In the mid 2000's, Google sought to scan all the works housed in the world's most prestigious libraries in the hopes that this body of knowledge could be made available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Like any good corporation, they also ensured that there was a handsome profit vehicle that accompanied their seemingly good deeds. And hey, if it made their search engine smarter as well, so be it! Since Google had decided to become a 'world library' unto itself, they also decided that scanning copyrighted works and posting them online was 'no biggie'. As writers and publishers began to see their coveted works posted online for all to plunder, the rumblings of dissent began.

'Google and The World Brain' is the kind documentary that stirs up an uneasy feeling in all of us. The film's score runs in the background with an ominous drone, while we are shown haunting images of endless library stacks and feverish book scanning. For a documentary that should have bored me to death, I found myself hanging on a French librarian's every word, relishing in a German publishers disdain and actually caring about the plight of a Japanese freelance journalist. Not an easy feat for what many would consider to be rather dull subject matter. I would recommend this film to anyone who has interest in emerging privacy policy, as well as anyone who has followed the plight of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange. The message we are getting is that Google will push forward with owning the world's information at any cost. It's funny. In writing this piece, I was curious as to who actually said, "History is written by the victors", thinking that it had been Winston Churchill. Ironically, no one can verify that Churchill ever said this. And I don't think history knows any better.

Reviewed at the Calgary International Film Festival 2013 (Repeat screening on Thursday, September 26, 2013 09:30PM @ Globe Theatre)

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