Monday, November 14, 2016

Lo and behold - Herzog's meditation on the internet

‘Lo and Behold’ by the always strange Werner Herzog, is a meditation, nay a ten-chapter chronicle, on the internet  - and it’s surprisingly good. I say that because he’s fundamentally a romantic filmmaker. As in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he can drift into spiritual nonsense and does, in the middle of this film, feature some predictable Herzogian nutters. But on the whole he let’s the people he talks to do all the work, and they’re mostly smart and reflective – Kleinrock, Kahn, Ted Nelson, Zittrain, Mitnick, Rajkumar, Thrun, Musk. Some big minds here with some great insights. Kleinrock and Kahn were there at the start, with Ted Nelson (who thinks we got the web all wrong). The rest tease out some facinating thoughts on what they regard as perhaps the gretest and most significant invention of our species.
It’s a journey from the first meaningful message on the internet (Lo...), through its evolution, enormity and emergent qualities. But its major theme is AI. Most science fiction missed the internet (it was all flying cars) and the internet, with networked intelligence, is posing some very profound issues about what it is to be human, smart but not human, and what the future may bring. It’s vexing me these problems, as I’m spending a lot of time talking about, writing and working in this area – believe me it’s both exhilarating and terrifying.
Thrun talks about MOOCs and the fact that his Stanford students didn’t get into top 400 who finished the course. He sees education as one of the great gains from the internet. This was the man behind Google’s self-driving cars that are linked to the internet and learn, collectively, always getting better, passing this on to all unborn cars. See what I mean - this is smart thinking. There's robot soccer teams that work together as a team and learn to get better on tactics. The creator thinks robots will eventually beat humans in a soccer World Cup Final. The chimp robot that imagines and models its actions before performing them, giving a hint at consciousness.  The emergent qualities of the internet – and it’s unpredictability. He also dips down into the dark side - with hacking and the horrific possibility of the internet being wiped out by a solar flare.

This movie is well worth a watch. Sebastian Thrun, who has an EdTech company worth a billion, says something fascinating towards the end, “Almost everything we do will be done by machines… almost everything we do, will be done better by machines… because machines can learn faster than people can learn.” That is an astonishing statement.

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