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Storyville: Google and the World Brain

Mon Feb 18, 10-11.30pm, BBC4

With great power comes great responsibility. Don’t be evil. Two pop-culture maxims for our times that come together rather neatly in Ben Lewis’s cautionary tale for the digital age. Working as useful companion piece to ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Google and the World Brain’ is a true story of how the best of intentions can wreak ethical havoc when allied to the latest technology.

In theory, Google’s plan to create a free, universal digital public library is admirable. In reality, it involved cutting a deal with libraries and citing ‘fair use’ to ride roughshod over copyright issues (scanning some six million books under copyright without their authors’ permission), while skewing dangerously close to seizing a monopoly on the very knowledge it was pledging to disseminate so widely. Subsequent settlements addressed many of those issues, and any company as young as Google should be allowed to make a few honest mistakes. But any company as powerful as Google should also be expected to maintain the highest possible standards in all areas of the business.