Lo and Be­hold: Rev­er­ies of the Con­nected World

LO AND BE­HOLD: REV­ER­IES OF THE CON­NECTED WORLD, doc­u­men­tary, rated PG-13, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

In Lo and Be­hold, doc­u­men­tar­ian Werner Her­zog de­liv­ers im­pact­ful im­ages to an im­age-starved world — whether it’s a rocket ship blast­ing off be­hind a herd of charg­ing cows, or a fam­ily griev­ing over the on­line ha­rass­ment they re­ceived af­ter their daugh­ter’s death while they sit at a ta­ble laden with a per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal dis­play of muffins and crois­sants — the lat­ter im­age pro­vid­ing an odd mo­ment of lev­ity in their oth­er­wise har­row­ing ac­count of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.

The film is os­ten­si­bly a doc­u­men­tary about the in­ter­net, but its greater pur­pose is to give us pause and ask ques­tions about where we, with our ad­vanc­ing tech­nolo­gies, are headed. It starts with a brief his­tory about the early days of the world­wide web. The first mes­sage sent by in­ter­net, from a com­puter at an en­gi­neer­ing build­ing at UCLA to a com­puter 400 miles away, was the mes­sage “lo.” The sen­der was typ­ing “lo­gin” but was in­ter­rupted by a tech­ni­cal glitch be­fore the rest of the word could be typed. But the ex­per­i­ment was a suc­cess and “lo” came through. By the 1980s, the email ad­dresses of ev­ery­one on the in­ter­net could fit in a di­rec­tory no thicker than your av­er­age phone book. To­day, ac­cord­ing to Her­zog, such a list would stretch “to Mars and back.”

Her­zog vis­its cen­ters devoted to the most ad­vanced work in ro­bot­ics, in­clud­ing a self-driv­ing car that learns from its mis­takes and uploads the in­for­ma­tion to a net­work of other cars, teach­ing them as it learns. We visit a team of sci­en­tists who set up games for soc­cer-play­ing ro­bots. One tech­ni­cian has a fond­ness for ro­bot num­ber eight, al­though num­ber eight seems just like all the rest to the ca­sual ob­server. Her­zog, with his dis­arm­ing line of ques­tion­ing, asks the tech­ni­cian, “Do you love it?” and the tech­ni­cian sheep­ishly ad­mits that yes, he does. Her­zog also shows us a ro­bot ser­vant who can suc­cess­fully pour you a drink, ro­bots de­signed for search and res­cue mis­sions, and sci­en­tists work­ing with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Be­fore you start fear­ing a com­ing “rise of the ma­chines,” con­sider that ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent ma­chines are still less ca­pa­ble in terms of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion than your av­er­age cock­roach, ac­cord­ing to the film. Her­zog is less in­ter­ested in what all this tech can do than in what it all means. He repeatedly asks his in­ter­view sub­jects, “Does the in­ter­net dream?” All agree it’s a good question, but few have con­crete an­swers.

We’ve come a long way, but not all of it is good. A large-enough so­lar flare could wipe out the in­ter­net, the film shows us. Con­sid­er­ing that a lot of our tech­nol­ogy — from cell phones to tele­vi­sions and home se­cu­rity sys­tems — re­quires a con­nec­tion, if they’re com­pro­mised, the world may plunge into a chaos from which it might not re­cover; we may not be able to recre­ate the tech­nol­ogy. Much of the knowl­edge about how the in­ter­net it­self devel­oped is lost in an ocean of un­saved emails. In Her­zog’s view, the uni­verse is a cold and in­dif­fer­ent place. If we build it, forces be­yond our con­trol may tear it down. If they do, you can bet the cock­roaches will sur­vive just fine.

Her­zog ac­cepts noth­ing at face value. Like a mod­ern Socrates, his ques­tions stim­u­late hon­est dis­cus­sion, un­der­min­ing pre­pared nar­ra­tives and spin­ning us in un­ex­pected di­rec­tions. Bud­dhist monks ab­sorbed by so­cial me­dia stare at their cell phones, prompt­ing him to ask, “Have the monks stopped med­i­tat­ing?” The film sug­gests that so long as we are con­nected, we are also sus­cep­ti­ble to dark forces and are some­times their agents. A telling state­ment is that the in­ter­net, the most ad­vanced global sys­tem avail­able that ac­tu­ally works, is also out of con­trol. Un­der­scor­ing this point is Her­zog’s in­ter­view with in­fa­mous com­puter hacker Kevin Mit­nick, who went from be­ing one of the FBI’s most wanted to his ca­reer to­day as a le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity an­a­lyst and con­sul­tant. He once sweet-talked his way into a cor­po­rate net­work sys­tem with a sim­ple phone call to a clue­less re­cep­tion­ist, end­ing the phone call af­ter ob­tain­ing pass­word clear­ance from the com­pany’s head of se­cu­rity.

Lo and Be­hold is far from a con­dem­na­tion of web tech­nol­ogy, but it is Her­zog’s plea for ob­jec­tiv­ity. The in­ter­net rev­o­lu­tion­ized the world and will con­tinue to do so. It isn’t good or bad in it­self, but we have an obli­ga­tion to con­sider care­fully how we use it and what we use it for. How it’s af­fect­ing our evo­lu­tion re­mains to be seen. — Michael Abatemarco

“Have the monks stopped med­i­tat­ing? Have they stopped pray­ing? They all seem to be tweet­ing.” — Werner Her­zog

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