REVIEW: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: August 18th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Director(s): Werner Herzog

“Did you get the ‘G’?”

Documentarian Werner Herzog‘s latest film Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World peers into the longer than expected history of our uncontrollable phenomenon known as the internet. The word uncontrollable doesn’t, however, allude to this network having created an artificial intelligence—although, as one subject states, who’s to say an AI hasn’t already been born that simply refuses to make itself known? No, the internet’s unchecked power stems from humanity’s present-day reliance upon it to literally survive. It’s become an extension of who we are in a way that’s rendered new generations ill-suited to exist in an analog realm should (when) it all disappear(s). It’s evolved into something ubiquitous enough to take for granted and yet, compared to its full potential, remains in its infancy.

Told in ten brief chapters ranging from the internet’s birth—a fascinating juxtaposition wherein Baby Boomer scientists (generally an age group thought to be computer illiterate) talk about how they built it way back on October 29, 1969 at UCLA—to its extraordinary achievements, infamous depravity, and future without man, Herzog speaks with visionaries, addicts, hackers, and victims alike. There’s a foreboding nature to the subject matter as the web’s power increases, but also a wry sense of humor delivered by the filmmaker’s remarks off-screen to diffuse the often tense pauses of deep-thinking and philosophical ruminations about whether or not the internet dreams of itself. The way he can ask an obviously humor-laden question but receive a cogently prescient answer tinged in fear is astounding.

This is Lo and Behold‘s success: tone. There are plenty of scientists explaining the science with chalkboards to stare at blankly, but understanding the math isn’t the point. We don’t need to know the system to use it, only that someone else does. And because they do we should hold them as experts and in return heed their warnings. Some speak about the end game being a totally autonomous world wherein every environment is wired to the point of rooms in public spaces routing our email and phone calls directly to us while others “predict” without predicting an extinction of civilization. After all, if a solar flare big enough to cause a blackout arrives, what will we do? Our lives exist electronically now. Without it we’re lost.

Thoughts like these are why Elon Musk works towards colonizing Mars. It’s surely motivated by hubris, but you can’t deny his logic in our being unable to do it in certain potential futures. Who’s to say that solar flare doesn’t render our world disconnected tomorrow—pushing us back into the 1960s for communication and farther for technology? If we do these things now we’ll be prepared for that worst-case scenario. If we begin implementing driverless cars to collectively learn from their mistakes now, the future may be safer sooner than we imagine. Morality asks us to close the internet so heinous acts like those of looky-loos terrorizing families with photos of their dead children cease, but what amazing advances would we be eradicating by handcuffing its true reach?

It’s a conundrum that’s been combatted for five seasons of “Person of Interest”, a TV show all the more relevant after listening to Herzog’s interviewees discuss past, present, and future. After all, he’s already found a smart young man who legitimately loves a robot—an artificial child to his God-like creator. Herzog speaks with gaming addicts who’ve crossed a threshold into virtual reality so severely that they worry more about their character’s wellbeing than their own. Some scientists scoff at the idea of conscious machines while their peers work out scenarios explaining how they already do in a rudimentary sense. It depends on your definition of consciousness. Does the ability to autonomously run scenarios for completing tasks count? Or just creating something that wasn’t there before? Who judges?

And really, should we fear the machines? Aren’t humans the fallible creatures in this world? Hacker Kevin Mitnick relays two stories about the ineptitude of security in the private and public sectors not because the code is weak, but because the humans enforcing it are. All it takes is one person to let his/her guard down and the game is over. We laugh when he talks about the prosecutor on his case forcing the judge to put him in solitary confinement because he had the power to whistle into a phone and launch nuclear Armageddon, but the truth is he might have been able to call someone who could and schmooze him/her into doing so. The problem isn’t that machines are getting smarter, it’s that we’re getting dumber.

Complacency will be our demise and many of these scientists agree. The mode of thinking that went into creating the internet has been dismantled as a result of its creation. Suddenly we have machines to proof our work, computers to crunch numbers in an instant that would take us years to do by hand. I personally know two phone numbers by heart today when I knew every single one of my friends and family’s fifteen years ago. Technology makes our memories weaker and our desire to fill our heads with meaningless information stronger. We’ve become lazy not out of laziness, but normalcy. We’ve adapted to this new age and our children and their children will adapt further until a possible dark age kills them all.

It’s a fine line between help and harm and Herzog is keenly aware of this ever-shrinking gap. So he pushes and prods with levity, disarming those who understand the inner-workings of the internet to tell us what they think rather than what they know. We dream of futures with conveniences we won’t have while things we can’t imagine are born instead. To live in a world where our digital footprint follows us is to be fully independent, but also utterly selfish. The world becomes smaller, but also colder, mean, and anonymous. We start to care less about the people around us than the information they provide. That’s a dangerous reality, one lacking in sympathy, compassion, and morality. Just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should.

[1] A scene from LO AND BEHOLD, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Dr. Leonard Kleinrock in LO AND BEHOLD, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[3] A scene from LO AND BEHOLD, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.