World on a Wire
World on a Wire was a two-part television miniseries directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and made for German television. Inspired by Daniel F. Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3 (1964), Fassbinder’s film depicts a near-future world in which the Cybernetics and Future Science Institute runs a massive virtual world on its supercomputer named Simulacron. The world contains thousands of “identity units” who exist and go about their everyday lives oblivious of the fact that they are simulations.

In the video excerpt shown here, the newly appointed director of the Institute, Dr. Fred Stiller, enters the simulation to investigate a sudden death (the Institute’s previous director) and a rogue unit named Einstein. Einstein has become self-aware and realizes that he is a simulation. He begs Stiller to take him to the real world.

The notion of a hidden, simulated world is a consistent trope in the narratives of artificial intelligence. World on a Wire tells the story of a scientific institute that uses a simulation program to predict the future of steel prices for a giant corporation. And its source material, Galouye’s Simulacron-3, pointed to the world of marketing and its use of simulations to predict trends. Both drew on a growing public awareness of the power of computing and the manipulation of public opinion in real life through entities such as the Simulmatics Corporation, which played a critical role in American politics and the Vietnam War during the 1960s.

Text To Speech

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Welt am Draht [World on a Wire], Part 1 (excerpts), 1973, 16 mm film transferred to video, Janus Films