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Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog’s new documentary looks at how humans are working with the internet and other new technologies

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Renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog admits to barely using a cell phone, yet his new documentary Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World promises an examination of the internet. His many documentaries have covered subjects as diverse as auctioneers and Antarctica, so why not match a curious director with one of today’s biggest topics: technology and how it has been, is and will continue affecting humans.

The engaging and sometimes provocative material is dispatched in 10 chapters, beginning with “The Early Days” and ending with “The Future.” The topic of the internet is as vast as the internet, so Herzog focuses on a few points of interest, some of which dovetail, like robots and artificial intelligence, or life without the internet, whether by choice or by some unforeseen catastrophe like a solar flare.

But first, the beginning: On the UCLA campus, we enter the room where the very first internet message was sent, on Oct. 29, 1969. It was: “lo,” all that was left of “login” when the system crashed after two keystrokes. Marvel at the refrigerator-sized “Interface Message Processor” — though, alas, viewers cannot appreciate its “delicious old odor.”

Herzog spends some time in Pittsburgh, checking with various scientists at Carnegie Mellon. There, Adrien Treville is harnessing the collective power of the internet to solve molecule-folding puzzles, while Raj Rajkumar is training autonomous cars (“To not hit anybody is the highest priority”). Other locals are toiling at the Robotics Institute in Lawrenceville, where robots, equipped with artificial intelligence, are being built to potentially tackle hazardous jobs.

The film also examines some problem areas of the internet: the rise of hacking (an old head points out that the original internet was designed for people who trusted each other; there was even a directory of all internet users); the ease of cyber-abuse, which magnifies human being’s innate cruelty; and our 24/7 dependence on internet access. We’ve all made robots-grow-sentient jokes, but Herzog’s primary cautionary query is larger: He wonders whether the entire internet — not simply a metal man or robocar — can gain self-awareness and make its own decisions.

Still, we plow blindly ahead, trusting huge facets of our lives to a rapidly growing technology most of us don’t understand. It’s been great and it’s been bad, often at the same time. The beginning was a finite point — that humble “lo” — but who knows what lies ahead for humans, robots or some yet-to-be-known life-consuming technology? After all, among all the futurists’ robust predictions about 21st-century life, nobody predicted the internet.

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