Sundance film reads 'false God' lesson in Google Books

January 25, 2013 by Romain Raynaldy
"Google and the World Brain" director Ben Lewis poses for a portrait on January 22, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Google Books, the doomed project to build the world's biggest library online, provides a powerful lesson in the danger of "blind faith" in technology, according to Lewis.

Google Books, the doomed project to build the world's biggest library online, provides a powerful lesson in the danger of "blind faith" in technology, according to British director Ben Lewis.

Presenting his new film " and the World Brain" in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, Lewis said the failure of the online giant's plan marks a victory over those who believe the Internet can encompass everything.

"Around four years ago, I began to think that there was a kind of blind faith in the Internet and the technology," he told AFP at America's biggest independent film festival, held in the snowy mountains of Utah.

"There was a kind of naive belief that technology would cure the world of many serious problems, and that it would make us more intelligent. And I just thought that was a kind of false God."

"And I decided that I wanted to make a film that stimulated or began to develop a sort of critical way of thinking the Internet, but still balanced. I wanted to present the dilemmas, the dreams and dangers."

He decided to base his film on Google Books, a project which was already well underway at the time to digitize every book in the world's top university and public libraries, to create a universal and free global library.

A picture taken on September 24, 2009 in Paris shows the screen of a computer featuring a Google Book search. One of the biggest question marks hanging over Google Books, fueling mistrust in the project, is the commercialization of digitized books, as opposed to the original free-for-all library model.

The film shows the enthusiasm generated by the project in its early stages, when prestigious institutions including Harvard University welcomed Google and its money-saving digital offer with open arms.

But fairly quickly it ran into problems, notably in Europe where the head of the French Bibliotheque Nationale, Jean-Noel Jeannenay, rebuffed the Californian upstarts, and backed a rival online cultural library, Europeana.

Google also rapidly ran into opposition when it began digitizing works not in the public domaine, as copyright holders cried foul. The film presents the crusade by a Chinese author, Mian Mian, against the search giant.

Threatened with legal action, Google agreed negotiate a deal with American publishers and authors, but that was ruled unlawful and litigation is continuing.

Lewis said the setbacks for Google—which has nevertheless used the books it has already digitized to improve its search engine, according to experts—have reshaped the future of the Internet.

"Google Books in its old form is dead. They actually got stopped by quite a conventional international alliance of institutions, individuals and governments," he said.

"That shows that it's not inevitable that the net goes in a certain way. It's not like we don't have any control over these giant Internet corporations and we just have to sort of go along with it. We can change it, if we want to."

One of the biggest question marks hanging over Google Books, fueling mistrust in the project, is the commercialization of digitized , as opposed to the original free-for-all library model.

"We all associate libraries with the community, with sharing things, something that shouldn't cost money, that everyone should have access to," said Lewis. "And in our hyper-capitalist globalized world, it's a big issue.

"How much of our public space has been taken over by private corporations? A library constantly reminds you that there are these sort of secret spaces that we don't think should be privatized."

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3 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2013
eventually all information will be free and globally accessible, because that's what people WANT. try and commercialize it all you want, but it will still be made available for free by somebody, somewhere. try and stop it, you won't. the very nature of the internet guarantees this. copyright is quickly becoming an antiquated notion. go ahead and resist the change, but you are guaranteed to lose in the end.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2013
A library of information on bits of dead trees is history--the ideal the drove Google Books will still win out and we all be only monitor away from what anyone has created.
3 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2013
It's not just the over-reach of copyright interests that is at stake here. The 'net is going to end up killing that business model. It's also the over-reach of governments. Open access to government (some voluntary, most by Wikileaks) is showing that the 'business model' of government is also out-of-date and will be modified/shrunk. That's why govts everywhere are afraid of people like Aaron Schwarz, and of course Assange.

1 / 5 (3) Jan 26, 2013
I remain wary of the power grab by hopeful commercial billionaires. Bill Gates caused the destruction of the jobs of tens of millions of middle class women, and now, in effect, he took over (stole) the jobs of these women forever. Like secretaries, typists, file clerks, shorthand specialists, and many others whose jobs are gone forever. Now these people are going after all the books.
not rated yet Jan 26, 2013
5 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2013
There was a kind of naive belief that technology would cure the world of many serious problems, and that it would make us more intelligent. And I just thought that was a kind of false God.

Belief by whom? Like saying "Indie film makers had this kind of naive belief they could make worthy movies." Making a broad declaration about a large, diverse group most of whom you know little. I don't know anybody who had that view regarding Google and Google Books. To me, just a mildly interesting project to watch.
This looks to be mostly a commentary on media (books, etc.) and how its purported owners are treated on the Internet. Hardly the specter of the Internet encompassing everything. But, with films, I'm used to hyperbole.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2013
Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It


Is there an analogy between currency inflation and inflation of the value of a bit? Kidz prate "a picture is worth a thousand words" a and call cartoons literature. There a bit is devalued.

Similarly, RIAA and DRM, the market is convinced that the product is worth stealing only. A boy band in a garage 'bit' is not comparable to a Berlioz 'bit'.

G00gle is killing the Golden Goose of e-books. That's OK, I've a Gutenberg Library.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2013
Youve got the inflation comment backwards Doug; we have deflation in the value of a bit of information regardless of the quality of that which is encoded in the bits. While a million bits of boy band may be, in your opinion, of lesser value than Belioz that doesnt stop a million bits of Berlioz being cheaper today than it was 50 years ago. Hence we have deflation in the value of the bit but possibly a lowering of the quality of that which is encoded in it. But possibly not even that for surely Berlioz has contemporaries who were on a par with modern boy bands and we have modern music on par with Berlioz.
not rated yet Jan 26, 2013
Since all gods are false, what is the harm in aiming high!? If Google had succeeded, the best library since Alexandria was torn down by war and religious terrorists would have formed.

It will form, eventually. Because people want culture and science.
not rated yet Jan 26, 2013
I do searches inside of scanned books using Google all the time. If it does "fail" it will be a legal/political failure, not technical.

But, I feel so much better that ... all that information is still locked up, moldering away in libraries I can't access due to rules, memberships or just simply distance. Huge victory.

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