The Billion Dollar Code is the (true-ish) story of two Berlin tech pioneers who developed groundbreaking software in the 1990s. Their code stitched-together satellite images, which allowed computer users to visit anywhere on the globe by zooming into a location with a mouse click.
At this point, you might be thinking this software sounds very much like Google Earth, and you'd be correct. However, the Google mapping software wasn't released until 2005. The Berlin pioneers released their software ‘Terra Vision' in 1994. The internet giant went on to earn billions from Google Earth, and the two German trailblazers were left without reward or recognition — leading to a David vs Goliath court case.
In 2014, ART+COM, the company founded by the German duo, sued Google, claiming that the search firm had copied code from their product Terra Vision to create Google Earth.
Netflix's Billion Dollar Code is the story of a court battle and the friendship between a brilliant coder and a visionary artist. In the four-episode series, viewers shift backwards and forward between a 2017 deposition in the case, where artist Carsten Schlüter (Mark Waschke) and coder Juri Müller (Misel Maticevic) testify as middle-aged versions of themselves, and the 1993-94 period when the young men first met and created their revolutionary software.
Making the audience interested in a story about technology is one of the most challenging parts of bringing a tech narrative to the big screen. Sitting in front of a computer screen is not intrinsically dramatic. However, The Billion Dollar Code creators recognised this, and they have done a fantastic job making this tale relatable and engaging. The series reminds me of another tech-based drama – Halt and Catch Fire.
I'm not sure how much Netflix spent on this production, but it has a very polished feel. Scenes of Berlin takes on a Bladerunner quality at times. The miniseries also explores Berlin's post-reunification era, with its techno clubs, wildly innovative art scenes, and computer hackers.
Another aspect of the series I found refreshing was the dubbing. I initially thought I'd watch this German production with subtitles turned on. However, the English dubbing is fantastic, and I usually hate dubbed TV. I don't know how Netflix has achieved this; could it be some revolutionary new algorithm? I hope the creators have a patent!
You don't have to be a nerd to appreciate this drama, the performances from Mark Waschke and Mišel Matičević make this series worth your time alone. Overall, The Billion Dollar Code is a fantastic tale about friendship, algorithms and innovation. However, what makes this film even more captivating is that it's based on a true story.
Too bad it never talked about another company named Keyhole, whose similar earth_like 3D technology Skyline was actually operating and sold to Google just prior to Earth being released in early 2000s. NASA had a product called Worldwind using a globe around then too.
The stumbling block was global sat imagery of high resolution. Operationally, GPS still only permitted 100m accuracy till the year 2000 or so even if you found a point, you would likely not be able to get to it.
Stuff to think about.