Overview. Josh Harris, ever hear of him? Me neither… not until I heard of this movie. The “Wharhol of the Web” came up with the ideas of Internet TV (Pseudo.com), statistic gathering, and the basis for many of today’s social networking sites. So why isn’t he mentioned as often as Gates or Jobs? Timing; The Internet wasn’t able to handle the bandwidth needed for his visions. Not until broadband became commonplace for net access. But by then, it was too little, too latte for Harris who left the high-tech scene and expatriated to Africa to avoid creditors.
Indie filmmaker Ondi Timoner spent 10 years with Harris documenting his rise as an Internet entrepreneur, to the Quiet experiment, and his eventual downfall.
Rise of a dot-com kid. Harris arrives in New York City with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, an a couple of ideas for the Internet in his head. His first venture is JupiterResearch, an Internet research company. In 1993, he envisioned television on the Internet and founded Pseudo.com. Pseudo not only had television (more like early vlogging before anyone heard of vlogging), but associated chat rooms for the shows. When he sold Pseudo, Harris’ net worth was now $80 Billion US. Luckily for him, he got out before the big bubble burst, but he decided to use that money for a “little” experiment…
The experiment: In December 1999, under some buildings in Manhattan, Harris constructed a “bunker” where he would gather 100 people. The people would be living in a commune-type setting with “pod” beds while under constant surveillance, and be subject to “interrogations,” though they would have free meals and a shooting range. The experiment’s aim was simple; To see how these people would behave living in an Orwellian setting. Things start smoothly enough, then went downhill fast. Eventually, after the new millennium, the NY Police and Fire departments shut the experiment down believing the experiment was actually a doomsday cult.
Though that experiment was over, he wanted to test his theory further by moving in with his girlfriend and installing net-cameras in their apartment. An incident that nearly leads to rape causes her to leave, and soon Harris has a mental breakdown. While Harris is considered an artist by some, there are some signs that he may have been insane in the mainframe before the breakdown.
Afraid of clowns? You will be!
The Point of the experiments? It should be obvious now that the technology has caught up to Harris’ ideas what the point is: How much of our privacy will we sacrifice for connecting to others, or for fame itself?
“Everything is free… except the video that we capture of you. THAT we own.”
If you’ve ever encountered targeted ads, you already have seen the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, the information they gain from what you willingly surrender they can now sell to others. Harris’ “Quiet” experiment was a not-so-quiet warning about where we were headed… rather, where we are now.
Conclusion. Call Josh Harris what you want… visionary, entrepreneur, voyeur, prophet, ca-ca-cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs… the message he sent with his experiments is only now being realized by a small handful of people. For the rest, they may not realize or even care about how much “exposure” they’re really getting for their 15 minutes. Looking for a treatise on the negative effect of technology? We Live In Public answers that question in no uncertain terms.
“A strange new era is dawning… an era of revolutionary experiments. Wired torsos, chip-implanted brains, creatures of silicon and steel… welcome to the age of cyborgs and androids. As humans become more machine-like and machines more human, the line between biology and technology is starting to blur. And in the process, we may just be reinventing the future of our species.”
Overview: I was looking for the Jean Claude Van-Dame movie Cyborg when I came across this series. Originally made in 2001, Beyond Human has been on the Internet on tube sites like Hulu, and YouTube (part one of nine, “The Cyborg Revolution,” is above), and on singularity and cyborg sites like The Singularity Symposium. A websearch will lead you to many other sites where the entire series can be viewed online or downloaded (read “torrented”) for offline viewing.
Beyond Human is split into two parts with a total of nine “chapters:” The Cyborg Revolution, Invasion of The Inhuman, The Cyborg Mind, The Age of Androids, How to Design A Humanoid, Emotional Robots, Can A Robot Be A Person, Robot Soccer, and Erasing The Line Between Man and Machine. The first three chapters deal with the possibilities of humans becoming cyborgs, with the rest showing the efforts to make robots more human.
“What about the whole business of them causing cancer? What about the possibility of an immune reaction? I’m not going to stick one of these things in my head until one million other people have.” Haters gotta hate.
The Invasion of The Inhuman chapter may make one second-guess their plans to get brain implants, especially with the comparisons with Tetsuo scenes. This is one of the perils of the advancing cyber-technology; With the technology overwhelm us? Plus the social, ethical, and possibly legal issues raised in the Can A Robot Be A Person chapter shows more potential problems. The final chapter asks “What will happen when robots become commonplace?” Will they be just property, or will they have rights? Will they become cohorts of humans, or their destroyers?
Nine years later, we’re still asking these questions. Obviously, this documentary/series was made to highlight the state-of-the-art at the turn of the 21st century, so it is well past its expiration date. But documentaries like this wasn’t meant to show the current cutting-edge. Instead, I see this as a milestone to show not only how far we’ve come, but how much further we have to go.
Conclusion: Like a time capsule in a backyard or a building’s cornerstone, finding stuff like this a surprisingly fun find. While not meant to be current by any means, it works best as a comparison to where we are.
WARNING: The following blog contains information that the Powers That Be do not want disclosed. Cyberpunk Review cannot be held liable for appearances of unmarked vans or black helicopters around one’s residence, readers being blocked from accessing our site, or visits from the Men in Black resulting from reading this blog. Reader discretion… and a full-body Faraday-cage suit… is advised.
“The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution. Just imagine that William Casey’s dream came true. Suppose the enterprise grew into a super-secret, self-financing, self-perpetuating organization. Suppose they decided on their own to assassinate Gorbachev or the leader of white South Africa. Could a President control them and what if he became the enterprise’s public enemy Number One? Who would know? Who would say no?”
I first heard these words during a Mental- Escher Cyberpunk Radio podcast. Out of curiosity, I searched the net and found the source: A PBS broadcast of a Bill Moyers report about a shadow-group who have been secretly influencing American policy and society in the name of “national security.” This show sounds like it was done recently during the Duh’bya regime, but SURPRISE, The Secret Government came out in 1987! It was released just after the Iran-Contra hearings, yet still holds relevance today as our own “government” continues the trend of secrecy in the name of “national security.”
If you do a websearch, you will find numerous links to the videos, along with additional information, excerpts of the short version, the short version split into two parts, a book based on the piece (excerpts here), and even theories about who is at least part of “The Secret Government.” You may want to add the phrase “The Constitution in Crisis” or “PBS” when searching to filter out UFO conspiracies.
The Beginning of The End. The downward spiral started with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, leading to the creation of a National Security Council… and the shadowy secret government of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA was tasked with gathering foreign intelligence, then to take on covert operations in an effort to combat Communism, which America of the time saw a threat. Any hint of communism would be enough to trigger the CIA into action… and in 1953 Iran, they took action. The legitimate leader wanted to nationalize the oil fields, which were run by British companies. But Washington thought this was the first step to communism, so the CIA took action… bribing the army, police, and mobs to drive the Iranian Prime Minister out, and replacing him with the Shah, even training and arming his secret police. This allowed American companies to take control of the oil fields, and the British got screwed.
Seeing their success in Iran, the CIA went on to attempt other coups: Guatemala in 1954 (whose legitimate leader nationalized over a million acres of land over the objections of the United Fruit Company), Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, …practically every hotspot in the world was created by the CIA’s covert actions in the name of “national security.”
Not all of the CIA’s operations can be called successful; the Bay of Pigs, Ayatollah Khomeni, Ten years of Vietnam quagmire, … Yet, the CIA still continues to operate “behind the throne” without any real oversight or restrictions to keep them in check. Even after the fall of communism, the CIA was still in full effect, looking to expand their powers, and looking for any “enemy” to go after.
They would get their wish in 2001. Some say they let the events of 9/11 happen to justify their plans for an American police-surveillance state, and perpetuating the war-driven economy they have come to depend on for the past sixty years.
A rose by any other name… Ironically, the Secret Government may have been outed as early as 1961 by outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Being a former General, Eisenhower was aware of the dangers of a war-driven society and government. But it wouldn’t be until 1975 when the Secret Government/Military-Industrial Complex would be investigated. There, they would learn of such CIA activities as deals with the Mafia, poisons, drugs, and the overthrowing of legitimate governments.
Recently, ZDNet’s Robin Harris blogged about his opinion of net neutrality while creating a new term for the MIC of the information age: the Governmental-Communications complex. He cites Qwest’s CEO’s “legal” problem when he refused to go along with the government’s post-9/11 domestic invasion-of-privacy program.
Who else is part of The Secret Government? While the CIA has been confirmed as a member of the “enterprise”, there has been some speculation (read: conspiracy theories) about who else is part of the shadow sect. One group to consider is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who have powers via “Executive Orders” like the ability to move entire populations, seize whatever they need or want, and even cancel the Constitution if needed. Here’s what a couple of people found out about FEMA.
There can be others who can considered part of the Secret Government, whether directly or indirectly: AT&T, Apple, The Federal Reserve, the oil companies, the health and drug cartels, the auto industry, the popular media factory, and don’t forget about the Blackwater mercenary corps!
The Power of The Secret Government.
… the secret government had also waged war on the American people. The hearings examined a long train of covert actions at home, from the bugging of Martin Luther King by the FBI under Kennedy and Johnson to gross violations of the law and of civil liberties in the 1970s. They went under code names such as Chaos, Cable Splicer, Garden Plot, and Leprechaun. According to the hearings, the secret government had been given a license to reach, as journalist Theodore White wrote, all the way to every mailbox, every college campus, every telephone, and every home.
Sound familiar yet? Just add the Internet and “every computer.” And it may not even be limited to domestic spying, either. There have been conspiracy theories linking the Secret Government to the assassinations John Kennedy and even Martin Luther King, Jr. If they have the capacity to assassinate or ruin foreign leaders, why not troublesome citizens. As for telling the truth, forget it. As long as they see “enemies” here and abroad, they are going to try to keep their secrets in the name of “national security,” including suppressing the TRUTH and crating a virtual reality for the media and news outlets to spew on the masses (ask Dan Rather).
Imagine the following: Two presidents tell lies. One lies about having an affair with an intern, the other lies about a foreign nation, whose leader may have been installed by the Secret Government, developing nuclear weapons and starts a war that mirrors Vietnam. The adulterous president faces impeachment, while the warmonger president openly violates the Constitution using the “national security” blanket to justify his criminal actions, but is not facing any charges and now wants immunity for his co-conspirators. Secret Government at work? No? Here’s a clue to consider: A lie about a blowjob didn’t kill 4000 American soldiers or thousands of Iraqi citizens.
Can it happen again? You bet it can!
The apparatus of secret power remains intact in a huge White House staff operating in the sanctuary of presidential privilege. George Bush (senior) has already told the National Security Council to take more responsibility for foreign policy which can of course be exercised beyond public scrutiny. And a lot of people in Washington are calling for more secrecy, not less, including more covert actions. This is a system easily corrupted as the public grows indifferent again, and the press is seduced or distracted. So one day, sadly, we are likely to discover once again that while freedom does have enemies in the world it can also be undermined here at home, in the dark, by those posing as its friends.
Those are the closing words of the short version by Bill Moyers. Prophetic? If not, you must have been born recently, or been asleep since 2001.
Just watch the videos, and I won’t blame you if you want to hide in your bunker, or take up arms for a revolution. Remember: No fate but what you make.
Boing Boing posted a link to a rare Philip K. Dick interview from 1977 on YouTube that was released as part of the Scanner Darkly movie hype. PKD talks about break-ins to his house by government officials, and the relative low-standing of science fiction in the literary community.
He particularly hates the “box” that SciFi was put in, in that it could only do things like space operas, or westerns set in the future, without sex, drama, etc. Clearly the cyberpunk movement of the 80s dramatically changed the rules. Since then, the entire genre has opened up. No longer are the SciFi/Fantasy shelves filled with mindless “Gonad the Barbarian” books, and literally everyone was forced to raise their game. Clearly, PKD was a precursor of this.
Overview: Cyberpunk is a documentary that looks back at the 80s cyberpunk movement, and more specifically, how this has led to a trend in the “real” world where people were starting to refer to themselves as “cyberpunk.” The documentary sees “cyberpunks” as being synonymous with hackers. A number of writers, artists, musicians and scientists are interviewed to provide context to this movement. The guiding meme, as told by Gibson, is that information “wants” to be free. 60s counter-culture drug philosopher, Timothy Leary, provides a prediction that cyberpunks will “decentralize knowledge,” which will serve to remove power from those “in power” and bring it back to the masses. Many different potential technologies are discussed, including “smart drugs,” sentient machines, advanced prosthetics – all of which serve to give context to the idea of post-humanity and its imminent arrival on the world stage.
As a documentary, Cyberpunk is haphazard. Some of the interviews, such as those by William Gibson and Timothy Leary are interesting, while others are mired in mediocrity. To mitigate the boredom of some of these, the film makers stoop to using cheesy visual effects to increase the interest. In one case, an interviewer is duplicated to four small windows, and in another, the talking head is completely moiréd out except for their eye. In fact, we are barraged by a stream of weird, experimental effects – one imagines that these are supposed to give us the “hacker-cyberpunk mindset” or something. In general, they don’t work, but I’m guessing the late 80s CG graphics probably looked far more futuristic back then.
The Bottom Line: This documentary really almost serves as a time capsule for capturing a still emerging hacker counter-culture. From a cinematic perspective, I’m saddened that Blade Runner was virtually non-existent in this. While they covered books, music (Front Line Assembly was the main one), science and art (Jaron Lanier, who coined the term “Virtual Reality”), their coverage of film was pretty sparse, generally restricted to obscure animes (which looked cyberpunk, but unfortunately I’m not familiar with). I will say I liked the younger William Gibson LOTS more than on his No Maps for These Territories documentary. He talks excitedly about cyberpunk, hackers, and our direction towards post-humananity. Ten years later, Gibson comes off completely bored with these ideas, and almost seems to wish he was never associated with the term, Cyberpunk.
Overview: I notice the decent IMDB rating for No Maps, but honestly, I just don’t see it. I have hard time coming up with something positive to say as No Maps for These Territories as a documentary on Gibson fails in virtually all aspects possible. You have to look long and hard to find a documentary with this little attention to detail across the board. No Maps has horrible lighting, haphazard editing and “FX” choices which detract even more from the mess that’s already on screen. In short, this film seems to be sending the message that William Gibson is a meandering scatterbrain who occasionally comes up with an interesting idea or two, but who, for reasons not of his own making, was able to become wildly popular. None of this is true of course, which is why this documentary resonates so badly with me.
Because I also gave New Rose Hotel a horrible rating, I want to be VERY clear about something – I think William Gibson is one of the most influential writers of the later part of the 20th century. His stuff is better than great. In no way does my knocking these movies reflect at all on my opinion of his literary works or his legacy. Nor do I believe that Gibson’s works cannot be very successfully transferred on-screen. Unfortunately, Gibson has yet to find his Peter Jackson.
I’m guessing the cup is a prop to get more light into the picture…
The Setting: A significant part of my dislike for No Maps is based on the decision to use a car as the setting. In thinking about it, it’s really hard to imagine a worse way to conduct a documentary. The entire thing takes place with Mark Neale, the director, driving a car while talking to Gibson, who is in the back seat surrounded by a few of set cameras. In using this approach, Neale was able to generate the worst of all scenarios:
Neale has to focus on driving so he has absolutely NO control over the cameras. This continually leads to horribly over or under-exposed shots of Gibson, grainy, and out of focus film and horrible positioning.
Because Neale has to concentrate on driving, whatever skills he might have had as an interviewer are compromised by the fact that he’s in massive multitasking mode – he’s driving and continually checking the recording while attempting conducting an interview. My guess is after a while, Neale just wanted to make sure Gibson was talking, and stopped bothering listening to what was being said.
Every now and then, Gibson would utter a terrific insight, such as when he mentioned that the internet all but ensured the end of the nation state. This would have been a great time for a prompting follow-up from an astute interviewer, but unfortunately, we get absolutely NO follow-up on this and many similar fascinating comments.
Notice that the left window scene doesn’t match with the rear window - this was intentional.
What the Cinematography Conveyed: Probably the most dissapointing aspect of No Maps relates to the unintentional visual symbols the “road trip” documentary provided. Gibson is known as a trailblazer – a thought leader in setting the course for science fiction, yet the interview in the back of the car makes him seem like someone happy to follow along someone else’s path. The title, “No Maps for These Territories ” is supposed to convey that Gibson went into un-chartered waters, yet everything in this documentary, from the meandering and repetitive music to the monotonous car ride, makes Gibson come across as someone who basically just intellectually wanders around and hopes he happens upon something interesting. In short – there was a map of the territory – it was in Gibson’s mind. This film works hard to obfuscates that fact:
The constant penchant to splice in absolutely random images in rapid succession whenever Gibson philosophizes tends to make Gibson’s message come off as incoherent.
The repetitive music consistenty has this meandering quality, which again, reinforces the message that Gibson wanders around through life and occaisionally gets lucky.
The “special effects” where Neale haphazardly transferred separate drive-by the images onto the side and rear window and back side of the car so that what was coming through rear window no longer matched the side window (see image directly above for an example) served NO PURPOSE AT ALL other than to distract the viewer from Gibson’s oratory.
The complete inattention to lighting or setting makes the entire project comparable to a neighbor’s home movie. It’s almost as if Neale was consciously trying to make Gibson (and Sterling) look as shabby as possible with the hopes that it made them more “edgy” or “real.” If this was the intent, my apologies for missing how this was helpful.
No, I didn’t have to look hard to find quality lighting shots like this one.
Perhaps the goal was either to break up the monotony of staring at Gibson in a back seat of a car for 88 minutes, or maybe it was done with the hope of making Gibson’s oratory seem non-linear, but what seems to be conveyed is that Gibson’s ideas aren’t really connected in any real way. In line with this, Gibson as the “meanderer” is re-enforced by poor editing decisions. While a few segments such as the internet one seem to have a nice flow, most segments are all over the non-existent map. What Neale unintentionally seems to convey is that if you keep a camera on Gibson long enough, like the rest of us, he’ll eventually come up with a a number of half-formed, off-the-cuff comments that go absolutely nowhere.
Was this shot intentional? Does Mr. Sterling own a gas station and like Marlboros? If so, probably they should have worked the camera better, as often only half of the gas station is showing.
Neuromancer’s Legacy: One thing we do learn from No Maps is that Gibson, like many great innovators, is probably the worst person to talk about his place in history, and in particular, the relevance of his earlier works like Neuromancer. When it comes to discussing his legacy, Gibson is extremely modest. He’s also a perfectionist when it comes to evaluating his prose. As he gets older, he negatively judges his earlier and discounts their value and overall importance. In discussing Neuromancer, Gibson calls it a simplistic book – as simplistic as cheesy three-chord progression songs in Album Oriented Rock music in fact, and that only teenage Goths should ever find it appealing. Never mind that it won all possible scifi awards (Hugo Award, Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, Nebula Award, Seiun Award, and Ditmar Award) and defined a whole new genre of science fiction, or that it changed the vocabulary and concepts the world over (the concept of cyberspace, for instance), Gibson still considers it pretty sophomoric. This leads to the clear implication that those who see something more in Neuromancer, or any of his 80s works, are also of the intellectual caliber of teenage Goths. Yet, in his five minute interview at a cheesy restaurant (also with shitty lighting), Bruce Sterling is able to provide more context on Neuromancer’s place in history than Gibson does for the rest of the film. Sterling points out clearly that while Gibson as an older man looking back at his life may have the right to criticize himself, but this doesn’t change the fact that he was a damn good writer back then who transformed the face of science fiction – I only wish there was an interviewer in this capable of pinning Gibson down on this. While Gibson may or may not like the prose, the ideas proposed clearly had intrinsic worth, and every so often, even Gibson acknowledges this.
This shot, which we see quite frequently in No Maps, perfectly sums up the documentary.
The Bottom Line: On the whole, this documentary performed a disservice to Gibson and his legacy. Those who have never been exposed to Gibson will watch this and conclude that Gibson was a lucky bystander in history who seemed to be at the right place at the right time. If you’re already a Gibson fan, you may get a bunch of interesting and honest tidbits from his past, but little else will be gained. In watching No Maps, I really found myself wishing that Neale had just gotten a semi-decent interviewer to sit down with Gibson in a quiet setting and interview him. Also, far more time should have been given to Gibson’s contemporaries, who clearly have a better sense of Gibson’s significants than he does. Had Neale taken this approach (one might call this a traditional documentary approach for lack of a better description), the result would have been FAR superior to the mess that this documentary produced. Again, the problem wasn’t that No Maps was produced on a shoestring budget, the problems arose from the choices made (using a moving car as the setting, where the director/interviewer/cameraman/driver was one in the same person, and the subsequent editing decisions). Yes, the name of the documentary is VERY cool, but very little else should be saved. Gibson deserves better. If history is kind, No Maps will be forgotten, and at some point, a quality documentary will be made that highlights Gibson’s most impressive legacy.