Dazzled and damned by the demo: The best tech industry critique in ‘Don’t Look Up’

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Warning: Contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up.”

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I’ve seen a lot of theories about Mark Rylance’s character Peter Isherwell don’t look up, an eccentric tech mogul whose uber-capitalism disguises itself as altruistic wisdom (even to himself). But whether Isherwell owes more to Musk, to Zuckerberg, or to Page, I think misses the point: The tech industry aims to make the film really clear, that wanted tech demo.

You can argue about its true origins, but most would agree that the concept of turning a new product or technological innovation into a stage show for public consumption has emerged largely thanks to Apple founder Steve Jobs. Received. Jobs was a natural showman from the start, and if you have a bunch of time to kill, it’s worth looking back through him. Recorded productions that date back to 1983, Especially with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, this kind of treatment became something that competitors clearly felt they couldn’t help but use to introduce new products as well.


Tech demos apparently existed before, and exist independently of their incarnations for the consumption of the general public. Demos were also famously the way that teams sought Jobs’ attention and approval internally during the development of Apple’s various products, and a good demo could mean earning approval and resources, while a bad one could cost the efforts of the entire team. can reduce.

But internal demos, at least when used properly, are ‘warts and all’ cases that provide important opportunities for leaders to see what their various teams are working on, and provide direction and solutions. Provides guidance about The public tech demo is something else entirely, and at this point it has become what it is presented with. don’t look up: a function of artificiality that exists independent of (and shares hardly any common ground) the real world.

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don’t look up There are two big ‘tech demo’ moments that show what’s really wrong with the kind we’re used to right now – and a third, relatable illustration that’s typically presented to the press after the official ‘hands-off’. From’ is similar to experience. Demo and introductory presentations. The first is the introduction of Bash’s new smartphone software, which literally reads the user’s emotions and provides them with calming content when needed (Video of a cute cat in a stage show.) When introducing the software, Rylance (as Isharvel) inexplicably flanked by kids who also have Bash-powered phones.

Isherwell ignores a request from one of the kids on stage to say something, which is just an appetizer to his utter ignorance after the presentation is over, when he concentrates instead on ironing out a small detail of the demo. does.

The next demo is for a much smaller audience, the President (portrayed by Meryl Streep) and his retinue. In this one, Isherwell is demonstrating how his proposed system for interfering with the arrival of the world-killing planet identified the characters Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. The demo is technically pretty impressive, presented via a clever hologram in which everything works exactly as it was intended. Isherwell also favors technical correctness by name-dropping some accomplished academics, but name-checking is significantly shallow.

Finally, ‘hands-on’ is when Isherwell shows the president the asteroid-mining robot he built before the mission. It’s a brief, surface-level look at technology outside its target use case that can’t help but be impressive, but isn’t backed up by real-world demonstrations of the latter.

In every instance where Isherwell is demonstrating what his technology will do, the scenario is fabricated and the demo is rigged. Each is a reflection of an ideal situation, and each (either maliciously or otherwise) hides the true purpose or performance of the technology in question at once on the real world. The smartphone OS, installed on the actual phone, later ends up just auto-purchasing music for one of DiCaprio’s on-screen sons without his permission or even participation.

Asteroid-destroying robots first collide with each other, then fail to smash the comet. Isherwell doesn’t live to deal with the consequences: he excuses himself and moves on to his next big idea – a colony ship to escape the stars (it turns out, doomed too).

In the film, the main criticism against Isherwell’s plan by actual scientists is that it is not ‘peer-reviewed’. This may sound like a weak counter, but it’s actually a profound one when you consider what this means about the tech industry in general.

Bash’s larger plan to turn an existential threat (asteroid) into a commercial advantage (via resource mining) is a more concrete example of an earlier operating system launch. Both are nascent technologies that have the potential to have a profound impact on human society in the world, at best, only focused on knock-on effects, or what if the impact is still profound, but a fantasy or modeling. Not in a vacuum.

don’t look up It’s parody in that it elevates elements of the story to a level of exaggeration to indicate their absurdity, and most of us will still admit that in cases where physical or planetary health is involved, something to do with that level. It would be strange to expect action to be taken without any level of serious scrutiny or review by genuine experts in the field. But we never think of the introduction of new technologies whose effects are perhaps more subtle, but no less profound, such as smartphones, or new social networks, or new ways of organizing, presenting, and accessing information. Resource.

If there’s one takeaway from this movie for tech industry observers and participants, it’s this: Never trust demos. we should not need a reminderBut the stakes aren’t always clear until after the fact.

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