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”…
Cornered in the tiny building of the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom for half a decade, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his team are undeterred, continuing to release troves of important documents, even as the personal legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the very organisation he leads and fracture the movement it inspired. Filmmaker Laura Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study of the forces that crescendo with a high-stakes election year in the United States and its controversial aftermath. In a world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a nuanced and curious portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. How much of your own life are you willing to risk?
Using the analogy of a Panopticon, this film looks at how technology and the convergence of vast data stores together are fuelling one of the most comprehensive attacks on privacy ever before seen. How is modern society being defined by such rapid changes? Where are we heading? By travelling to Germany to show how such attacks have been the basis for past dictatorships, Panopticon asks: Even if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? What does privacy mean for you? When precisely does the surveillance state begin? What is your threshold? With a focus on the Netherlands, Panopticon offers a comprehensive analysis challenging the current herd-mentality and apathy about privacy in the modern world.
“Quants” are the mathematicians, software developers and computer programmers at the centre of the global economy. These are the people who designed the “complex financial products” that caused the financial crisis of 2008. Here they speak openly about their game of huge profits, and how the global economy has become increasingly dependent on mathematical models that quantify commodified human behaviours to the point of insanity. But things don’t stop there. Through the convergence of economy and technology, the Quants have now brought this model into the world of the machines, where trades are done at the speed of light, far from the realm of human experience. The machines are in charge. Some Quants are even now worried. What are the risks of this complex machine? Will the Quants be able to keep control of this financial system, or have they created a monster?
Film-maker Brett Gaylor explores the issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers. The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk—a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy?
The Wall Street Code explores the once-secret lucrative world of prolific algorithmic trading by profiling an inside programmer who, in 2012, dared to stand up against Wall Street and its extreme culture of secrecy, to blow the whistle on insights into the way the modern global money market works. His name is Haim Bodek—aka ‘The Algo Arms Dealer’—and having worked for Goldman Sachs, his revelations speak to the new kind of wealth made only possible by vast mathematical formulas, computer technologies and clever circumventions of laws and loophole exploits. Vast server farms and algorithms working beyond the timescale of human comprehension, have largely taken over human trading on the global financial markets for decades. What are the implications of that? The algorithms seem to have a life of their own. Snippets of code secretly lie waiting for the moment that your pension fund gets on the market; trades done in nanoseconds on tiny fluctuations in stock prices. And the only ones who understand this system are its architects—the algorithm developers. The Wall Street Code provides just a small insight into this new world of high-frequency trading, amongst other things…
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.
Governments all around the world are using high-tech mass surveillance tools to monitor their citizens. Western corporations, including Britain’s largest weapons manufacturer, BAE, are among those which are creating and selling mass surveillance infrastructures all across the globe, but especially to particularly repressive regimes. Weapons of Mass Surveillance makes example of what is happening throughout the Middle East where journalists, human rights advocates and activists are being targeted with surveillance tools developed by western corporations with extreme real-world consequences. Political opponents to tyrannical power are targeted, jailed, and in some cases, tortured or “disappeared.” This shows the power of mass surveillance tools for great harm, and how the west is culpable in perpetuating systemic repression both at home and abroad.
New surveillance technologies are penetrating every aspect of our lives and we don’t even know it. All across the world, millions of cameras are watching us. The police are able to record almost every journey and operate on ever expanding powers of search and arrest; governments collect our DNA, fingerprints and iris scans while colluding with corporations to profile us and analyse our behaviour. All of these measures, it is said by the state, is to protect our freedom…
Meet Roxxxy, the world’s first sex robot, and the strange men who’ve been yearning for “her” as an obedient android sex “partner.” Roxxxy’s inventor, Doug, is working on finely tuning the robot to be the perfect android sex “companion” and has a queue of men eagerly awaiting a one night stand with it to test the technology of their fantasies. But how did this come about? My Sex Robot follows the lives of three men in attempt to find out. Delosian, remembers from the age of 13 watching Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man and it blew his mind. What he saw triggered his view of an ideal woman. Kaiso speaks of a similar experience sexualising mannequins from department stores. But for Edward, robot sex as already arrived. He has found it by converting his real-life girlfriend into a robot simulation. All these men speak about the power, control, predictability and obedience that sex robots bring, as opposed to relationships with real people. As a result, My Sex Robot presents a startling reality of emerging technologies with already-existing myriad sociological and psychological implications.
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.
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?
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.
Centred around the concept of open computer networks that contradictorily end up running closed corporate-controlled communication portals like Facebook and Twitter, Free The Network follows two young men who camp out at Zuccotti Park building wireless access points to connect their devices as part of the ‘Occupy movement.’ Through interviews along the way, Free The Network examines the current state of the Internet in the midst of the protest, and shows how the myth of the ‘democratisation of technology,’ along with the widespread emergence of clicktivism, is a flawed framework for driving social and political change…
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, amongst the ravaging of war, the United States has been secretly deploying drones to carry out assassinations throughout the Middle East. The drones are increasingly piloted by the likes of young computer gamers groomed by screen culture and computer games of war, where in many cases, the Pentagon is directly involved in the creation of such games as recruitment tools, actively working to lure young people proficient with technology into the new era of the military-industrial-complex. Drone unravels this complex phenomenon while travelling to places such as Waziristan, where innocent civilians, including children and rescue workers are routinely secretly killed, where families and communities ravaged by the drone strikes search for understanding, accountability and adjustment to the daily horrors. The film also takes a look at the young people sitting behind the screens of the new war machines, half a world away, that actually pull the trigger, asking what kind of world is being built in the rise of seemingly endless and lucrative war driven by technological escalation.
The Biotech Revolution is largely an exploration by scientists working in genetics and biotechnology that repeatedly promise “unprecedented health benefits and longevity for all,” amongst other things, to rationalise their work in the so-called “biotechnology revolution.” But in reality, isn’t this “revolution” simply just more of the same control imperative of science and this culture’s technology, essentially ending in the prospect of a monoculture of genetically modified people? Will such control foster into globalisation a history of inclusion and harmony? Or, will we simply end up in an extension of the current order, albeit one that is further divided, this time by genetic apartheid?
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.
Tracing the Internet’s history as a publicly-funded government project in the 1960s, to its full-scale commercialisation today, Digital Disconnect shows how the Internet’s so-called “democratising potential” has been radically compromised by the logic of capitalism, and the unaccountable power of a handful of telecom and tech monopolies. Based on the acclaimed book by media scholar Robert McChesney, the film examines the ongoing attack on the concept of net neutrality by telecom monopolies such as Comcast and Verizon, explores how internet giants like Facebook and Google have amassed huge profits by surreptitiously collecting our personal data and selling it to advertisers, and shows how these monopolies have routinely colluded with the national security state to advance covert mass surveillance programs. We also see how the rise of social media as a leading information source is working to isolate people into ideological information bubbles and elevate propaganda at the expense of real journalism. But while most debates about the Internet focus on issues like the personal impact of Internet-addiction or the rampant data-mining practices of companies like Facebook, Digital Disconnect digs deeper to show how capitalism itself turns the Internet against democracy. The result is an indispensable resource for helping viewers make sense of a technological revolution that has radically transformed virtually aspect of human communication.
Good Copy Bad Copy is a documentary about the current state of copyright and culture in the context of Internet, peer-to-peer file sharing and other technological advances. Featuring interviews with many people with various perspectives on copyright, including copyright lawyers, producers and artists, Good Copy Bad Copy documents that “creativity itself is on the line” and that a balance needs to be struck, or that there is a conflict, between protecting the right of those who own intellectual property and the rights of future generations to create…
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is not just another celebratory biographical film about the life of a business man that many around the world grieved in 2011. It’s a full rounded critical examination into the fundamentals of a person revered as an iconoclast, a barbed-tongued tyrant, a business sociopath. The real Steve Jobs is revealed like this through candid interviews from those who had close relationships with him at different stages of his life, including the mother of his child, Lisa, that Jobs refused he had, but named a computer after instead. The film also takes us through the evocative essence of the brand of Apple Computers which has captured the population like zombies, and asks the question: What is the legacy of this industry, and the truth of this kind of person that the culture celebrates so much, completely ignoring the darkness?
Film maker David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world — Britain. When David receives a letter stating that both he and his daughter are amongst the 25 million residents whose details have been lost by the government in a massive data breach, David sets out to investigate some potential impacts of such data being lost in a society of mass surveillance. Erasing David documents the test where David hires two private detectives to track him down as he chooses to ‘disappear’ for 30 days to see if he can avoid being caught amongst the vast data trails generated by modern society…
How does the military train the solider of tomorrow? Video games. The most popular games are those that replicate as close as possible the war events as seen on the news. Such games now far outpace the biggest Hollywood blockbuster movies, popular music, and best-selling books, combined. What does this complete immersion in high-tech war mean for our political culture? As well as those directly affected by state violence? What does it mean when the technological sophistication of modern militarism become forms of mass entertainment? Returning Fire profiles three artists and activists that decided these questions needed to be answered. We see how Anne-Marie Schleiner, Wafaa Bilal, and Joseph Delappe moved dissent from the streets to the screens, infiltrating war games in an attempt to break their hypnotic spell. The results ask all of us—gamers and non-gamers alike—to think critically about what it means when drones and remote warfare become computer games and visa versa. Can we reflect on our capacity to empathise with people directly affected by the trauma of real war?
Kevin Warwick is a renowned researcher in the precarious field of cybernetics, the study of ‘artificial intelligence,’ human-control functions, robotics and so-called “cybernetic organisms.” His work, as self presented here, shows how implant and electrode technology can be used to control human brain functions, to create biological brains for robots, to enable so-called “human enhancement” and treatment for neurological illnesses. The end goal is transcending human “limitations” or transhumanism, according to Warwick, which inevitably stirs up many social, ethical and practical questions. What are the implications of this work, and this world view?
InRealLife asks: What exactly is the Internet and what is it doing to our children? Taking us on a journey ranging from the bedrooms of British teenagers to the explosive world of Silicon Valley, filmmaker Beeban Kidron suggests that rather than the promise of free and open connectivity, young people are increasingly ensnared in a commercial world. And as this is explained, InRealLife asks if we can afford to stand by while our children, trapped in their 24/7 connectivity, are being outsourced to the web.
Filmmaker Werner Boote travels across the globe to investigate the era of so-called Big Data, where huge amounts of detail about our lives are gleaned for use in decision making, automation, and consumerism, but ultimately, to generate huge profits for corporations that harvest and control our data. Everything’s Under Control investigates these modern times through many lenses: People who have studied surveillance culture, to democracy activists in Hong Kong; from educators, advertisers, and traders, to privacy advocates, and security experts; from digital IDs, fingerprinting, iris scans and online profiling, to hacking, data leaks, and invigorating recent historical memory of atrocities based on data and personal information. We hear distorted perspectives on privacy from many voices, challenging the viewer to reflect on what it means to live through the largest social experiment with data ever before conducted on a global scale.
Transhumanists claim a beautiful and apparently now-not-so-distant utopian future made possible by artificial intelligence, life extension and cybernetic technologies. But upon examining the convergence of these technologies and the history behind them, Age Of Transitions details how this movement of “transcending human limits” was born out of pseudo-science eugenics, and what the implications are for a world divided by the have’s and have-not’s.
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 dominant culture measures itself by the speed of “progress.” But what if this so-called progress is actually driving the physical world towards full-force collapse? Surviving Progress shows how past civilisations were destroyed by progress traps—alluring technologies and belief systems that serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. As the total destruction of the environment accelerates and those in power cling to their power ever more tightly in denial, can this globally-entwined civilisation escape a final, catastrophic progress trap?
Through exploring deep questions about the way mainstream media is organised and perpetuated in concert with technological development, media expert George Gerbner delivers a solid indictment of the way the so-called “information superhighway” is now being constructed. Following on from his solid work looking at the impacts of television on society, Gerbner turns to examining emerging technologies like V-chip and the way they interface with globalisation. This film urges the viewer to struggle for democratic principles in this emerging technoculture.
The latest findings in genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, bionics and nanotechnology appear in the media frequently, but almost no analysis is found of their common aim which is to “exceed human ‘limitations’ and capability”—literally to ‘transcend’ humanity: transhumanism. This three part series covers the notion of transhumanism, the desire of technologists to become physical machines in totality, prompting serious physical, ethical, philosophical and practical questions. Will the transhumanists achieve their sacred so-called singularity? And what will that mean in the real world?
High Tech, Low Life follows the journey of two Chinese bloggers who travel their country chronicling undner-reported news and social issues stories. Using laptops, mobile phones, and digital cameras, both develop skills for reporting while learning to navigate China’s continually evolving censorship regime and the risks of political persecution. The film follows 57-year-old ‘Tiger Temple,’ who earns the title of China’s first “citizen reporter” after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder; and 27-year-old ‘Zola’ who recognises the opportunity to be famous by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. From the perspective of vastly different generations, both personalities must reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from veggie-farmer to Internet celebrity; and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past, both provide a portrait of China and of the wider questions facing news-reporting in the age of the Internet.
As the United States developed the world’s first nuclear weapons in secret, it was surprised at the speed in which the USSR was able to also develop such weapons, and that such developments would lead to an unprecedented arms race. The USSR was able to obtain all the nuclear discoveries made by scientists who worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project through a very unusual spy, Elizabeth Zaroubin. She managed to gain the trust of great researchers, such as Einstein, in a story comparable to some of the best spy novels ever written.
All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is a series of films about how this culture itself has been colonised by the machines it has has built. The series explores and connects together some of the myriad ways in which the emergence of cybernetics—a mechanistic perspective of the natural world that particularly emerged in the 1970s along with emerging computer technologies—intersects with various historical events and visa-versa. The series variously details the interplay between the mechanistic perspective and the catastrophic consequences it has in the real world.
HyperNormalisation wades through the culmination of forces that have driven this culture into mass uncertainty, confusion, spectacle and simulation. Where events keep happening that seem crazy, inexplicable and out of control—from Donald Trump to Brexit, to the War in Syria, mass immigration, extreme disparity in wealth, and increasing bomb attacks in the West—this film shows a basis to not only why these chaotic events are happening, but also why we, as well as those in power, may not understand them. We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. And because it is reflected all around us, ubiquitous, we accept it as normal. This epic narrative of how we got here spans over 40 years, with an extraordinary cast of characters—the Assad dynasty, Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger, Patti Smith, early performance artists in New York, President Putin, Japanese gangsters, suicide bombers, Colonel Gaddafi and the Internet. HyperNormalisation weaves these historical narratives back together to show how today’s fake and hollow world was created and is sustained. This shows that a new kind of resistance must be imagined and actioned, as well as an unprecedented reawakening in a time where it matters like never before.
The latest in the string of controversies as part of the United States’ ongoing “war on terror”, is the military’s growing reliance on “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” otherwise known as ‘drones’, evidenced by the international reaction to recent drone missile attacks along the border in Pakistan. The military is also deploying other technological advancements alongside, such as robots in the battlefield and drones that work in swarms. Is this just a big computer game? A new tech-driven arms race? It doesn’t end there though — drones are now creeping into use by police and the intelligence services as a surveillance tool, and even into commercial and civilian use…
In 1960, NBC aired what is widely considered to be the first reality television show in American broadcast history. Billing itself as a new kind of visual reporting, the show was called Story of a Family, and it purported to document the day-to-day lives of the 10-member Robertson family of Amarillo, Texas. While the show has long since faded from public memory, media scholars and television historians have long recognised its significance as a precursor to the “unscripted programming” that dominates television today. TV Family draws on this history by interviewing several of the children featured in Story of a Family, to offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how the show was made, and what it means to shape culture. Weaving personal anecdotes with commentary from historians and scholars, TV Family reveals the story of how the show’s producers carefully choreographed the way they wanted the family to appear to the American public—all in the name of “authenticity.” The result is an eye-opening look at one of television’s earliest successes in shaping the reality of family life in commercially viable ways.
Why was the the electric vehicle made by General Motors destroyed in the late 1990s? Why did it receive only limited commercialisation despite being hugely popular? It was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no exhaust and catapulted American technology to the forefront of the automotive industry. The lucky few who drove it never wanted to give it up. So why did General Motors suddenly crush its fleet of EV-1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert? Was it because of a lack of consumer confidence or conspiracy?
The United States of Secrets chronologically accounts the Bush administration’s embrace of illegal and widespread dragnet surveillance and eavesdropping programmes, along with the Obama administration’s decision to not only continue them, but to dramatically expand them—despite denials and promises to the contrary. By weaving narratives by those who sought to blow the whistle on these programmes over the decades—culminating with Edward Snowden’s unprecedented dump of insider documents in 2013—we see how and why those inside the NSA and other government agencies came to act; what actions were effective, and what role the mainstream media had and continues to have in keeping such secret projects alive and untouchable in the name of ‘national security.’
This culture runs on algorithms on a scale never before realised. Whether you get a job or a mortgage or insurance or healthcare, how you get from A to B, how huge fortunes are made or whom is driven into poverty, decisions on whom is sent to or released from prison, whom is voted for in manipulated elections—the reach of algorithms has captured so much of the major decisions of our lives, all in complete obscurity, inscrutable. So what are the implications of this? What sort of ‘decisions’ do machines make, to which we’ve come to regard as infallible and impartial, accurate and precise? Algorithms Rule Us All speaks to data scientists and programmers themselves to answer the question of what they think is unfolding with the so-called Big-Data society and how we’re continuing to hand over our lives and societies to the whim of machines that are driven by rapacious profit-driven companies, for the goal of commodification of everything. What are the implications for human autonomy, society, democracy?
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…