“Brave New World,” a riveting 60-minute documentary produced by Angela Andersen of West Tisbury and Hamburg for the major German television network ZDF, will screen Thursday night, Dec. 15, at Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern. It begins with a shot of a spectral blue unicorn sprinting over the Golden Gate Bridge, as a German-accented man’s voice — actually Claus Kleber, co-producer with Ms. Andersen, and Germany’s Walter Cronkite — declares with a note of quiet profundity, “You just can’t prepare for the rush into the future.”
Indeed. This movie takes us on a ride every bit as magical and mind-boggling as the unicorn’s blue blaze of light over the ’Frisco bridge. In the next scene, we’re cruising in a car with a handsome German with a smooth peach face and balding forehead, as he rides without wrenching a steering wheel or pushing buttons; it’s a driverless auto, cruising over the same dazzlingly high and beautifully sculpted bridge.
Meet Sebastian Thrun, professor at Stanford, innovator, and computer scientist, as he tells us about the unicorn. And, no, this is not a fairy tale. A “unicorn” is the tech world’s buzz lingo for a startup that makes a billion dollars overnight. Herr Thrun’s current unicorn is Udacity, an online university program with minimal tuition for a 4 million-and-going-strong student body around the world.
“I know the Ivy League university system inside and out,” Thrun tells us, his implication being that a Udacity degree has the power and potential to open up higher education to whomever’s bright and sparkling eyes care to seek it out on a computer screen. We see a lot of bright and sparkling eyes reflected off screens in this vividly beautiful doc.
We also spend quality time with scientist Neil Jacobsen, creator of Abilicorp, which connects people with disabilities to Internet careers. Jacobsen tells us we’re on the cutting edge of atom-size manufacturing. We also connect with scientist and medical researcher Jennifer Doudna, head of her own company, intent on radically improving human health through gene manipulation. “There are proteins that act like virus-snapping robots,” she says over a cartoon image of this very deployment, the protein resembling a big benevolent pale blue sponge as it munches away at the doomed virus thread.
Astro Teller, weaving around his indoor Google X campus on skates, tells us more about self-driving cars: “More than a million people a year are killed in car accidents, and over a trillion is spent in the damage. These tragedies can be averted,” he explains, adding that the shining future of self-driving cars will call for far fewer vehicles. “Get ready for disruption,” he says with a grin, still skating.
The disruption part, of course, we’re starting to know all too well. The good news is that disruption yields the brave new world of improved living through science.
Mr. Teller, described by some of his peers as a modern-day Jules Verne, says, “Artificial Intelligence eclipses human intelligence.” We already rely on that info, seized in a nanosecond, as we depend on our iPhones and computers to give us the population of Milan or the number of polar mammals facing extinction this year.
Our current goofy attention to high-tech devices is captured frequently in this film as the camera pans crowds of people on San Francisco and Silcon Valley sidewalks, all peering intently at their palm-held screens, the majority of them also plugged into the object of their attention by ear buds.
Wonderful tech inventions are coming out of Beth Israel, M.I.T., and other institutions around Boston, but Silicon Valley, called by some the Renaissance Florence of today’s tech innovation world, is indisputably the capital. Sebastian Thrun, like all the other geniuses, bursting with curiosity, declaims, “[The way we think is,] let’s just make something! We’ll figure out how to get paid afterwards.” And needless to say, when an idea catches hold — such as Airbnb or Facebook, which wraps itself around the world — the compensation is phenomenal.
The most striking aspect of this hourlong documentary is its absolute beauty. Ms. Andersen, who directs and co-edits, brings us not only blue-light-streaming unicorns, but city lights sparkling as if seen from outer space, and clouds rippling over changing skies the way Tiepolo and Raphael might have loved to paint their own skies, had the technology been available. Even a viewer with no interest in science and technology will find “Brave New World” exciting to watch for its Fellini-like images, such as a high-above shot of a girl with an open pink umbrella riding a bicycle across an expanse of white salt flats.
Ms. Andersen also directed zoom shots across the city of San Francisco: trolley cars, Victorian neighborhoods, busy intersections, and all, giving us the experience of guiding our own drones across miles of urban mass in the period of a few seconds. “It takes days and days to capture those zooms,” Ms. Andersen said in a recent phone interview. “You keep changing the depth, step by step, as you go miles. We wanted to show the visual experience of how fast everything is happening.”
Scary? Sure! Mr. Kleber asks a few of his brilliant interviewees if these leaps into the future could go the wrong way. Yes, they could, but the subjects are committed to using knowledge and innovation responsibly. And for the moment, all appears to be in good hands. Ms. Andersen’s camera captures each inventor, including Mike Schroppeur, second in command under Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and we see in their faces an earnest need to make it all good, to help — even save — the world.
“Brave New World” has already aired multiple times on German television, with more than 4 million viewers. So far no attempt at U.S. distribution has been made. Therefore the screening on Thursday night at Pathways is a unique opportunity to see this documentary, amazing on so many levels.
“Brave New World” screening and Q and A with Angela Andersen: Thursday, Dec. 15, 6:30 pm, Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern. For more information, contact Tanya Augoustinos at firstname.lastname@example.org or Scott Crawford at Scott4pathways@gmail.com.