We’ve all heard tales of huge online companies trying to use our knowledge for profit. We scoff at Facebook or Instagram when they update their privacy settings and get creeped out when Gmail gives us ads for things we’re discussing with our friends.

Google and the World Brain, a new documentary by Ben Lewis, is about that but on an even more frightening scale. It focuses on Google Books, and the company’s attempt to complie the entire printed history of the world into a single database. That sounds like a noble and worthwhile cause but, after watching Google and the World Brain, you might think otherwise. You might think Google has an agenda worthy of Dr. Evil. 

In case you didn’t know, for the past several years, Google has been in touch with some of the world’s finest libraries asking to scan in their collections in an attempt to create an online database of every book ever created.  The main focus of Google and the World Brain is the fact that of the 10 million books Google has scanned for their directory, six million are still under copyright. This raised major red flags in the academic community about the company’s ultimate intentions. Were they really trying to provide a service? Was the goal simply to improve the search engine? Or does Google want or have the ability to compile data about what exactly it is the world is reading in their free time?

The film never quite reaches an answer, mostly because Google stonewalls them on this topic, but it circles the questions ceaselessly with a tone akin to a high-end conspiracy film. Experts from across the globe weigh in on the implications of this project, which seemed to begin with noble intentions only to exponentially grow into something many people can’t even fathom.

But that’s not all. The film tackles topics such as the history of Google, and the phrase “World Brain,” which was coined by H.G. Wells. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it’s all incredibly interesting, especially if you’re into technology and its future implications. The bad side is the film regularly gets off topic and begins to lose its tone and pace.

Google and the World Brain is a movie you’d never turn off if you saw it on cable. But, that might be where it ultimately belongs.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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