Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016) | Directed by Werner Herzog | A node of communication looking at itself and the bigger process | Indian Premiere at the MFF

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, Werner Herzog

This week, at the 18th MFF, a Virtual Reality exhibition was organized. A talk among the VR expert Gabo Aurora, Raja Kadouri and  Anand Gandhi opened the gallery. There was a platter of VR films – immersive and non-immersive – of different duration. While we cannot send the VR experience over our non-VR net, we would love to share the talk in an upcoming article.

This article is about Lo and Behold, the latest offering from the formidable Werner Herzog. In ten chapters, Herzog sketches out a history, and a future, of what it means to be connected. The film can work as a primer on the paradigms of communication. The screenings at the Mumbai Film Festival saw a full house, thrice, with seriously interested audience.

I sense a problem, a seriously big one, when a rampant social media entrepreneur from Kolkata puts a question on the official page of his site asking the readership if they love to read Bangla books. He posits the question, quite naively, as if reading Bangla books (and the existence of Bangla literature itself) is a cult phenomenon.

The problem is Bangla books, literature, even blogging in Bangla language, or the web-presence of Bangla are not part of a cult movement. Bangla is well-represented in the global, online, communication, thanks to the writers and techies from Bangladesh. People from Bengal, and other geographical sectors on the globe, are not negligible in number too.

This is the kind of naïveté that Herzog’s first documentary as a participant observer hints at. In 1969, in the first successful experiment on two computers talking to each other using a telephone line, the first line sent over the limited net was log on. After sending the first two characters – L and O – one of the machines hung. In the history of communication, Lo was permanently marked as the first word ever sent over the net. It was accidental. But, Lo means behold! The full story can be read here.

Ranged over ten chapters, Herzog's observation of the implication of the internet and its overarching role in human communications, Lo and Behold picks up problems of identity and anonymity, world wide web, consciousness, artificial intelligence, web-addiction, expansion of humanity - internally and geographically, soccer played by robots, hacking and illegal cracking, invasion of privacy, and game (as well as internet) addiction.

Those of us, who are interested in the philosophy of science, may remember the fierce debate between Marvin Minsky and Roger Penrose in the 1980s. Penrose penned two books to to break the myth of AI open. Those books became bestseller. Minsky retorted. The pivotal point in Penrose's argument was that machines could not lie. Lying as a survival strategy evolved as a typical biological process, Penrose tried to show through a very tortuous (but not so technical) argument. He brought in Godel's Impossibility theorem to the aid of his argument. Minsky and a few of his sympathizers proved Penrose wrong in a way. 

Their argument can be read here

But, none of them visualized the long reach of internet.

When I was dabbling with Lisp and Ada in 1997, and writing recursive programs using C anc C++ (Java just came in August, 1995. Its reach was yet to grow), I had not yet known how far search engines could go. One of the first AI programs we would write as novice programmers was finding the shape of a rubic cube, or the color of a ball, by recursive programming - by the method of elimination.

One of the best results of programming, accessible to household computers in 1996-97, was ID software's Doom, Heretic and Quake, and Sid Meyer's Civilization - my first strategy game.

Pretty soon, Deep Blue would defeat Kasparov.

I watched The Lawnmower Man and Tron, in 1994 and 1989 respectively. Thee ideas were not far-fetched for our generation. We were with Minsky and team, and not with Penrose.

Herzog, not immersed in the reality of facebook and google, their instant advertising based on our private chats with friends and casual searches, as well as reading time of a particular webpage, tries to find out the level of immersion. As Herzog is not a game-theory expert, it is not possible for him to know that he is trying to find out if internet gives us the possibilty of playing a non-zero-sum game. A non-zero-sum game is one where there is no clear win or loss.

Instead, the film finds that there is no way out of this ultra-reach connectivity. Even Herzog, who keeps mum about the smartphone, is not an outsider to this. It becomes a kind of cultural theory approach (reading religion) or an economist's approach (reading the economy) to try to read internet as an insider. 

In his prophetic voice, Herzog conducts an almost personal tour, where he leaps from the UCLA room, where ARPANET began, to the girl whose almost decapitated body became the sensation of the web, to the Carnegie-Melon scientist Dr Joydeep Biswas, who is busy with making the best football team of robots - a team that may easily defeat any human team in the next 15, or 20, years.

The identity problem over the net surfaces in the documentary, with the famous New Yorker cartoon. Abhik Mukhopadhyay, the famous Cinematographer, made a film on this idea fifteen years ago. Even today, I do not really know if the partner of my skype chat is really the person who she pretends to be.

Elon Musk's famous Mars project is highlighted in the film too. Just the way, google is the extension of human search, and the web (with all its piracy) is the extension of the physical realm of knowledge, Mars Mission is the extension of human population - the next level of navigation and colonization.

                                       People recant their game addiction in "Lo and Behold"

People's bytes, events cited and explored in long shots and close ups - Herzog's camera moves through different cultures, from the far shore of the US to the near east South Korea. The level of internet addiction among the new-gen (post-globalization) kids, who prefer wearing diapers to facilitate sitting endlessly on a game. Reality is seamlessly joined to VR for these.

While the next few years would witness the rampage of the immersive VR, like Matrix, Herzog's film could give us a historical feedback on where we are in the progress of communication, and how it happened.

A must watch for anyone interested in his/her realities.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated! 

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