The Great Hack is an inside account of the company Cambridge Analytica, which used vast amounts of personal data scraped from portals such as Facebook to manipulate elections throughout India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States over the past decade. The company, owned by SCL Group—a British firm that has a background in military disinformation campaigns and psychological warfare—came to public attention after the Brexit campaign in the UK, and soon after, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, both closely worked on by Cambridge Analytica and its billionaire backer, Robert Mercer. This resulted in inquires and investigations into both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but the company liquidated, along with its internal documents. Two former employees instead step forward to offer an inside account into the dark world of data mining and personalised propagandising, having some regret for what they have done. The film tracks these characters, as Cambridge Analytica lives on as Emerdata Limited, in the same London office. The Great Hack exemplifies big questions about democracy in the age of targeted information manipulation via the screen, and just how much power over our awareness has been ceded to giant corporations.
The Hacker Wars explores the strange duality of the modern-day computer-hacker as a mischievous provocateur, but also in some cases, societal activists with underlying political fervour, serious or not. The film explores this by profiling some of the renowned characters that have tickled the secretive inner workings of corporations and government agencies for various reasons—ranging from the nefarious and narcissistic, to the political and scandalous. Some do it for the lulz, others do it to prove a point, and others do it to “speak truth to power.” In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. By following through this, The Hacker Wars touches on issues of whistleblowing, social justice, and power relations, in a time where computer technologies represent extreme power and control. But for whom? And what? This poses the question in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they serious activists with good intentions, or are they driven by insane ideologies?
The Intelligence Revolution is an extolling and largely non-critical account by advocate Michio Kaku who unflinchingly explains how artificial intelligence will “revolutionise homes, workplaces and lifestyles,” and how virtual worlds will apparently become “so realistic” that they will “rival” the real physical world. Robots with “human-level intelligence” may finally become a reality according to Kaku, and in the ultimate stage of scientific mastery, the era of control imperative and domination, this culture will seek to merge human minds with so-called machine intelligence. Also, for the first time, we see how a severely depressed person can be turned into a happy person at the push of a button—all thanks to the convergence of neuroscience and microtechnology. What’s wrong with such developments? And the larger culture such that technologies like this are being developed in the first place? How do such prospects impact the real physical world and the real physical lives of all of us?
The Internet’s Own Boy is a biographical documentary of the programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who died at age 26. From his help in the development of the basic Internet protocol RSS at age 14, to the co-founding of the social network website Reddit in 2006, Swartz becomes disillusioned with the grooming of academia to the corporate life presented to him, and turns instead to work on issues of sociology, civic awareness and activism. It then becomes Swartz’s work in social justice issues and political organising, combined with an open and sharing approach to information access that ensnares him in a two year legal battle, in which authorities seek to make an example of him and the work. The battle sadly ends with Swartz taking his own life. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to the political system, civil liberties and human relationships.
The Net explores the back-story of Ted Kaczynski (the infamous ‘Unabomber’) as a prism to the often unexamined side of the history of the Internet. The film combines travelogue and investigative journalism to trace contrasting counter-cultural responses to the so-called ‘cybernetic’ revolution of the 1970s. For some whom resist the pervasive systems of digital technology, the Unabomber can come to symbolise an ultimate figure of refusal. But for those that embrace the technologies, as did and do the champions of so-called ‘media art’, such as Marshall McLuhan, Nam June Paik and Stewart Brand, the promises of worldwide networking and instantaneous communication outweigh any and all of the concerns. The Net links these multiple nodes of cultural and political history, analogous to the Internet itself. Circling through themes of utopianism, anarchism, terrorism, the CIA, LSD, MKULTRA, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, The Net exposes the conspiracies and upheavals, secrets and cover-ups as part of the forgotten subversive history of the Internet.
The Quantum Revolution spouts claims of turning many ideas of science fiction into science fact—from materials with mind-boggling properties like invisibility through to so-called “limitless quantum energy” and room temperature superconductors, to a space elevator for tourism. Are such developments worthwhile, sustainable, equitable or even necessary? Scientists forecast that in the latter half of the century everybody will have a personal matter fabricator that “re-arranges molecules to produce everything from almost anything.” Yet how will those in power ultimately use the domination of matter and life on Earth? How is science already doing this and to what ends? What are the unasked questions about science itself and the desire to control the very fabric of the universe? What insanity are we up against?
As high-technology permeates further into the industrialised world, manufacturers will go to any lengths to get the raw materials to make their gadgets. Coltan from the Congo is one such rare ingredient. Few in the west know where their gadgets come from and that in the middle of Africa much human suffering is created in the pursuit of “technological advancement”…
The Truth About Killer Robots considers several cases where humans have been killed from interactions with automatic machines. From the Volkswagen factory in Germany, to workers in Chinese sweatshops assembling smartphones, to a bomb-carrying police droid in the United States, the film exposes this culture’s fundamental fascination with machines, while illustrating the insatiable expansion of capitalism via automation and machine redundancy. Also explored are ‘self-driving’ cars; surveillance devices; humanless-stores, automated pizzas, robotic supermarkets and hotels; so-called ‘sex’ robots; and vast data gathering machines such as Facebook, which have subverted notions of real human interaction and intimacy. Told through the machine lens of engineers themselves, journalists and philosophers, the film attempts to go beyond the deaths of humans to reveal some of the ways that robots affect this culture in general. Not just by the displacement of labour, but fundamentally as humans of this culture adjust their lives to the rhythms of more and more machines, basic human faculties atrophy, and true connection to the real world and each other becomes more remote and strenuous, at precisely the same time where we need each other the most.
Google or Wikipedia? Those of us who search online are getting referred more and more to Wikipedia. For the past two years, this free online “encyclopaedia of the people” has been topping the lists of the world’s most popular websites. But do we really know what we’re using? The Truth According To Wikipedia plunges into the story behind Wikipedia and explores the powerful world of ‘Web 2.0’ — Is it a revolution, or pure hype?
20 years on from the invention of the World Wide Web, The Virtual Revolution explores how the Internet is reshaping almost every aspect of our lives. But what is really going on behind this reshaping? The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, believed his invention would remain an open frontier that nobody could own, and that it would take power from the few and give it to the many. So how do these utopian claims stand up to today?
Ray Kurzweil, noted inventor and futurist, is a man who refuses to accept physical reality and the inevitability of death. Instead, he claims that the trending exponential increase in the growth of information technology can continue indefinitely, and that a so-called “singularity” will emerage—a point where humans and machines will converge, allowing one to “transcend” biological “limitations.” But there are many who share deep concerns about the consequences of working towards Kurzweil’s world…
Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia explores the cultural implications and background of one of the most visited and referenced sites on the Internet. What is the role and impact of Wikipedia in the archiving of information and the preservation of culture? What will it leave behind? This film examines the unfolding legacy by weaving multiple perspectives about the impact of Wikipedia and provoking a deeper conversation on how knowledge is formed and what future generations will learn about history and the world…
Unprecedented looks at voting irregularities in the controversial presidential election in the United States from the year 2000. With a focus on the swing state of Florida, the recount, the ensuing supreme court decision in December, and future elections; the film also shows how fundamentally, many people—the majority being African-American—have outright been refused the ability to vote by a clever mix of legalese, electronic voting machines, political maneuvering and simple racism. A 1868 law prevented felons from voting—originally crafted to keep blacks from the polls in the wake of the Civil War—was resurrected in 2000, used to create a computerised list of people supposedly illegible to vote. The list had weird parameters and included as many as 57,000 to 91,000 non-felons; overwhelmingly targeting people of colour. On election day, these people were turned away at the polls. The role of electronic voting machines is also examined, as they are totally unaccountable and do not allow audits. The argument is made because of copyright over the software and trademarks. The machines also do not give paper receipts, so there is no physical evidence in case of the need for a recount. How does the United States—the so-called and self-proclaimed world-famous democracy—fair as one in light of this?
This film explores what affect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.” Josh Harris—often called the “Andy Warhol of the Web”—founded a website during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s which was the world’s first Internet television network. This concept was way ahead of its time, before broadband, but would go on to become commonplace in the years to come. Using this platform, a vision of that future was also exemplified at the time—an underground bunker in New York City where over 100 people lived together completely on camera, non-stop and unedited for 30 days over the millennium. The irony in which this speaks to future events doesn’t end there though. As the experiment and the film shows, We Live In Public serves as a powerful analogy for the Internet as it’s now known today and the price we pay for living in its ‘public,’ showing just what the costs of willingly trading privacy and sanity for a constant voracious audience, attention, the pursuit of the cult of celebrity—but above all, the mimic of real human connection mediated by technology—can be.
Every day, billions of people are unwittingly taking part in what is the largest most comprehensive psychological experiment ever conducted. The old marketing and advertising world using billboards, advertisements and TV commercials to persuade us, has been comprehensively augmented by an entirely new field of “user experience architects” and “online persuasion agents.” These forces are given tremendous power from the proliferation of digital technologies. So how do these powerful forces ensure that we fill our online shopping carts to the brim, or stay on websites as long as possible? Or vote for a particular candidate? What Makes You Click examines how these prolific entities collectively and individually use, shape, and manipulate our experiences via an online world, not just when it comes to buying things, but also with regards to our free time and political perspectives. The manipulation has become so good that these powerful controllers, former Google employees among them, are themselves arguing for the introduction of an ethical code. What does it mean when the grand conductors of these huge experiments themselves are asking for their power, influence and possibilities to be restricted?
Who Pays the Price — The Human Cost of Electronics is a short film that seeks to humanise the largely hidden and anonymous global labour force that enables the ubiquitous technoculture, documenting the harsh conditions in which electronics are made and how this really impacts those people’s lives, and the environment. Toxic chemicals, plastics, and sweat-shop working conditions all contribute to the global machine that disseminates digital technologies, hidden in plain sight. Through direct footage of factory workers, interviews with them and analysis of the conditions, Who Pays the Price asks the question of the viewer, and as a call to action to stop the exploitation and toxification of people and the natural world.
Stuxnet is a malicious computer virus, first identified in 2010, that targets industrial computer systems and was responsible for causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as spreading across the world. The virus is believed by many experts to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon, although no organisation or state has officially admitted responsibility. Zero Days covers the phenomenon surrounding the Stuxnet computer virus and the development of the malware software known as “Olympic Games.” It also examines the follow-up cyber-plan entitled ‘Nitro Zeus,’ showing how the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare.