Google and the World Brain

Synopsis: The story of the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet, and the people who tried to stop it. In 1937 HG Wells predicted the creation of the "World Brain", a giant global library that contained all human knowledge which would lead to a new form of higher intelligence. Seventy year later the realization of that dream was underway, as Google scanned millions and millions of books for its Google Books website. But over half those books were still in copyright, and authors across the world launched a campaign to stop them, climaxing in a New York courtroom in 2011. A film about the dreams, dilemmas and dangers of the Internet, set in spectacular locations in China, USA, Europe and Latin America.
Director(s): Ben Lewis
Production: Polar Star Films
  1 win & 11 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
90 min


There is no practical obstacle

whatever now

to the creation of an efficient index

to all human knowledge,

ideas and achievements.

To the creation, that is,

of a complete planetary

memory for all mankind.

He was one of the early inventors

of science fiction.

The idea of time travel,

the possibility of invisibility...


..of intergalactic struggles.

And then, he came up with ideas

of how we might reorganize the

knowledge apparatus of the world,

which he called the World Brain.

For Wells, the World Brain

had to contain

all that was learnt and known

and that was being learnt and known.

If you have access to anything

that's been written,

not just theoretical access,

but like instant access

next to your brain,

that changes your idea

of who you are.

It can be reproduced exactly

and fully in Peru, China, Iceland,

Central Africa or wherever else.

They were frank in their ambition

and dazzling in their ability

to execute it.

The Google Books scanning project

is clearly the most ambitious

World Brain scheme

that has ever been invented.

This is no remote dream, no fantasy.

It is a plain statement

of a contemporary state of affairs.

The nightmare scenario,

in 20 years' time,

would be Google tracking

everything we read.

Google could basically hold

the whole world hostage.

Ever since Wells,

science fiction is always

about the possibility

that people won't really matter

in the future.

And the plot is always

about some heroic person

that either succeeds

or doesn't succeed

in proving that people really matter

after all.

It's a library, a public library,

where people go to look at books,

and read them and take them away.

That girl works at the library

and she checks on books

that are going out

and books that are coming back in.

I love libraries.

I like the smell,

the smell of paper

properly preserved.

It's as if it's the smell

of a hay barn

that's been cleared

of all its animals

and made into a human intelligence.

And in a library, you really...even

if you're sitting in the tearoom,

discussing your latest findings,

it's amazing how much social

interaction with other people

will actually help you

to enrich what you're doing.

'In this part of the library,

'the grown-ups can read

the stories to the children.'

People sometimes say to me,

aren't libraries obsolete?

Um... It's... It's absurd -

they are nerve centres,

centres of intellectual energy.

Libraries stand for an ideal,

which is an educated public.

And to the degree that knowledge

is power,

they also stand there for the idea

that power should be disseminated

and not centralised.

The first appeal of Google's


when we saw it, was just digitising

millions and millions of books.

At Harvard, we have, by far,

the greatest university library

in the world.

It's enormous - 17 million volumes.

And every library wants

its holdings digitised

for lots for reasons,

including preservation.

But, beyond that,

it raises the possibility

of sharing your intellectual wealth.

I think of the Harvard Library

as an international asset.

Something that should be opened up

and shared with the general


So here comes Google.

They've got the energy,

they've got the technology,

they've got the money and they said,

"We'll do it for you. Free!"

Google did such a fabulous job

in creating a vision,

not only that a universal digital

library could be created,

but that it could be done today.

The Google engineers are

like good engineers everywhere,

they just like to think about,

"How do we surmount

these challenges?"

They sort of leave the lawsuit

to the lawyers to worry about.

Google's a company that believes

in its fundamental mission

of empowering everyone in this world

with all the information they need.

Enriched with the right information,

people can make better decisions

for themselves,

their families and their communities.

This world is full

of wonderful individuals

which have varied needs.

From a farmer in Africa

to a mother in India,

to a business person in Japan.

Everyone needs information

in this modern day and age.

And Google believes

in breaking all the barriers

between every individual

and the information they seek.

When you actually negotiate

with Google

and do so on their turf,

you enter a strange world.

A Google office doesn't have chairs

like this chair,

the furniture consists

of large inflated balls

that are coloured green

or red or yellow

and the young Google engineers

are sitting on these.

It's a kind of Never Never Land


About ten years ago, I got a visit

from a vice president of Google.

And she walked into my office

and described a project

that Google had in mind,

which was to digitise

all the books in

the Harvard Library.

My first thought was,

to put it bluntly,

that maybe they were smoking

something, because I didn't think

it was possible.

Harvard had been digitising books

from time to time,

but they were very limited

in number and we didn't do many,

it was a very expensive

and complicated project.

I don't remember exactly,

but it was several hundred dollars

just for a single book.

But they had invented

a copying station

that was a lot cheaper

and easier to use,

that didn't damage the books

or, at least, went out of its way

not to damage the books.

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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