Saturday, November 14, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: In Silico

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

In Silico
Directed by Noah Hutton
Ticket Information

There is a lot we know about the brain, and plenty that we don’t. There are many theories that have yet to be proven since it simply isn’t possible to know what it is that has yet to be discovered and concluded. Technology opens a new door to be able to learn by using computers to build a simulation of the brain that can mimic the way the human mind functions and teach its observers a good deal that can’t be mapped or explored in a living person. Unsurprisingly, there is considerable debate about the effectiveness of such projects and the factors that need to be taken into account for a proper and complete analysis.

This documentary is a ten-year study of prominent neuroscientists, including Henry Markram, who set out to create the perfect simulation that offers a window into understanding the brain in a whole new way. There are different approaches recommended by the clashing personalities, and questions about where the funding comes from since there may be ulterior motives related to other uses of this research that could take advantage of new knowledge for nefarious purposes. What is learned throughout the process is informative but also challenging since it often serves to reset the timetable and reignite previous objections.

This documentary functions on two different levels, spotlighting this ambitious journey undertaken by neuroscientists and the things they discover about themselves along the way. What many seem to agree on is that expectations will rarely be fulfilled, and presuming that a timeline is static rather than eternally fluid will never lead to anything other than partial conclusions based on incomplete data. Perhaps that in itself is indicative of information gathered, that the close collaboration of too many high-functioning brains is bound to lead to friction rather than progress.

As someone who reviews movies and doesn’t know a lot about science, this hands-on film feels like an appropriate first introduction to high-level concepts that its viewers aren’t meant to completely understand. Having its accomplished subjects speak directly about what they know and what they’re looking to find makes this a more accessible experience, showcasing various perspectives about the advantages and drawbacks of expecting human behavior from an entity that is inherently different. It may ultimately provide more questions than answers, but this is a worthwhile snapshot of a far grander endeavor to understand more about something powerful that exists within every person on this planet.


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