In October 2004, Google announced an ambitious project, one that has imagined by the greatest minds of the world for as long as humans have recorded their thoughts. The Google Print Library aimed to be an all-encompassing destination for information. The plan: scan every book in the world and make them available to view by anyone, at any time, anywhere. A utopian concept — one that quickly took shape as Google connected with America’s universitys to digitize thousands of manuscripts. “Google Books” was recognized by many as one the 21st century’s great innovations. For others, a terrifying seizure of power.
In Google and the World Brain, director Ben Lewis investigates the potential issues with the company’s rising stature through interviews with writers, librarians, employees of the Titan corporation, and futurists. On the surface, even the most cautious can’t help but speak in awe of the “world library.” But when Lewis drops cautionary quotes from H.G Wells into the mix – predictions of a super power who eclipses all government with knowledge – the tone takes a turn for the worse. Futurist writer Jaron Lanier is the most vocal: with everyone in awe over Google’s attempts to manifest the world library, Lanier believes society missed the step to regulate them.
If there’s one issue for the film is the inability to crack Google’s secretive process. When it comes to their high tech tech book scanning, a mobile unit that treks to libraries across the globe, there are only 6 seconds of recorded footage depicting the process in action. The only Google employee Lewis enlists can’t be pushed to weigh in on the negative ramifications of the project. When legal battles eventually ensue against Google, authors taking action in the murky world of copyright law, Lewis’ often opt to keep mum. As the court room warring continues today, sources keep confidential information (that would add to Lewis’ case) out of the interviews.
Still, Lewis intriguing subject matter outweighs any road blocks he faces when mining facts. Like the futurists he’s speaks with, Google and the World Brain looks at today to predict the future. Google isn’t a nefarious enterprise, but decades from now, will power change them? There goal is to create the ultimate vault of information, one that can also support ads and enhance the artificial intelligence of their search engine. H.G. Wells wasn’t far off when he imagined the future being home to a “world brain.” Lewis’ documentary isn’t that different from the science fiction author’s own forward thinking.
Could Google pose a potential problem for the world as a whole, even if they’re goals are to help evolve society? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
[Photo Credit: Polar Star Films]
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