The biographical drama ‘The Billion Dollar Code’ is now streaming on Netflix. The four-part mini-series was directed by Robert Thalheim and written by Oliver Ziegenbalg.
The story begins in the present day with a case deposition setting in a conference room where two Germans, Carsten Schluter (Leonard Scheicher/Mark Waschke) and Juri Muller (Marius Ahrendt/Mišel Matičević) recount their experiences during the early 90’s when they first came up with the idea of Terravision.
Carsten was a university art student with a preference for digital art, an art form that was way ahead of his time. He would often display his work at underground clubs that sprang up in those times, which is where is he met Juri, a brilliant coder who was part of a hacker group called Chaos Computer Club.
Juri helped Carsten out with one of his animations using an image of the earth to show the changes he’s made. While sharing a bite to eat from a food truck, Carsten recalls the animation of the earth and begins to envision an idea of a program where, with the help of a computer, one could zoom into the earth from outer space and visit any place they’d like.
Meanwhile back in the present, the two lawyers Lea (Lavinia Wilson) and Eric (Seumas F. Sargent) take turns questioning both Carsten and Juri in order to prepare for the trial.
With the specific need for a computer with an Onyx reality engine which cost quite a lot of money back then, they had only one option to turn to in terms of funding which was Deutsche Telekom, a telecommunications company that encouraged technological projects very often in the ’90s.
The executives were interested in their idea but asked them if they would be able to get it ready in time for the technological conference in Kyoto the following year and despite knowing full well that they were attempting something no one had done before, they committed to the timeline and got their funding.
They began their work on the program which they had named ‘TerraVision’, with the help of a team of artists and hackers. Obtaining satellite images of every place on earth figuring out the interface and developing an algorithm for the whole thing were all part of the project.
As they got closer to Kyoto, Juri still struggled with the development because the computers of old simply did not have the ability to process the amount of data they had collected in the way that they wanted. He then had a eureka moment after a hospital trip, because he collapsed due to a stress disorder, and figured out how to successfully run their program.
They left it late, but by the time they were in Kyoto and at the live conference, they managed to get TerraVision working and it was a huge hit also receiving attention from the US secretary of state. They became superstars after that, travelling the world with their project and receiving all kinds of recognition for their brilliance.
This caught the attention of Brian Anderson (Lukas Loughran), the innovator behind the Onyx reality engine which was essential to the creation of TerraVision. He invited Juri and Carsten to the Silicon Valley in California and immediately struck a bond with Juri thanks to their shared intellect and love of coding.
They visit a party in the desert where Juri and Carsten are separated, with Juri staying up all night chatting with Brian about how TerraVision can morph into something even more than just a map. Brian even offered Juri a job in California but Carsten was sceptical about the deal and convinced Juri to go back with him to Berlin.
Back home, the duo began their search for new investors so that they could expand on their vision with their newly formed company ‘Art+Com’ but struggled to convince people of their predicted importance of the internet in the coming years. Their ideas went over the heads of these possible investors who could not comprehend their creativity.
They didn’t have to struggle for too long though, as the internet craze eventually hit Berlin, and they finally managed to secure their funding. Not long after, Google announced their upcoming project along with Brian Anderson which was set to begin development, Google Earth.
With the similarities quite obvious, Carsten questions how Google could know their one of a kind algorithm. Juri admits that he may have revealed the code to Brian back when they visited California but he didn’t want to believe that Brian would actually claim it as his own.
After writing an email to Brian, he visits the duo in Berlin and goes on a spiel about how Google would be interested in acquiring their patent for a substantial fee and possibly collaborating with them in the future. Juri is thrilled with this idea but Carsten suggests getting a lawyer first, something Juri does not agree to.
They move ahead without a lawyers help and send a letter with an offer to Google, but that’s when Google sends their lawyers in return to quash their efforts to claim any sort of credit for their innovation. They’re both devastated by this and spend the next couple of months struggling to move on.
Carsten switches his attention to an art exhibition using TerraVision while Juri still holds out hope that he can prove Google copied their code and implemented it for Google Earth. At his request, Carsten agrees to visit different lawyers to see if they have a case, but are met with a brick wall instead due to the complexity of the case.
This ends up being the final straw, and Carsten decides to take a job as an art professor and move on from Art+Com, with all the others in the team slowly following his example and giving up hope of success.
In the present, Juri finds it difficult to keep his cool during the deposition and storms out and heads back to his home in Budapest. After being informed of this by Lea, Carsten heads out there to convince him to come back, even though they haven’t spoken to each other in years.
Lea and Eric discuss the case, with Lea admitting that she was drawn to this case because of the countless others she had seen just like this where a big corporation like Google had simply run over a small innovator and claimed credit for their work. She wanted to fight for justice and hopefully win one for the little guy.
The time arrives for the trial, which is being held in Delaware, USA. Juri and Carsten are finally on the same page and hopeful that they can finally prove that Google Earth was inspired by TerraVision. Will Juri be able to keep his cool on the stand? Will Lea and Eric be able to prove what they believe is the truth?
The Billion Dollar Code ending explained in detail(Episode 4):
Early sparring session
The trial starts off with opening statements, with Lea explaining how the case was about a small boys dream of Flying around the world like Superman, and how it led to the concept of TerraVision which formed the basis of Google Earth, while the lawyer for Google argued that it’s simply a case of whether Google use the same code or not.
Both sides called forward financial experts to determine the value of Google Earth. While the expert claimed that Google Earth was essentially a free service, the expert for the other side claimed that with the added importance of data collected per use, the true value of Google was around 700 million.
Eric and Lea also call in a behavioral expert named Ralph (Thomas Douglas) to help Carsten and Juri project the right image to the jury during their testimonies.
Getting into the thick of it
Next up is Carsten’s turn up on the stand. Google’s Lawyer uses a very straightforward method of questioning which begins to fluster him, but thanks to advice of Ralph and some prompts from Juri, Carsten is able to flip the script by interrupting the lawyer’s rhythm.
After a seemingly successful testimony, it is the turn of the technical consultant who had previously examined Google’s code and ascertained that it was identical to the one used in TerraVision. However, his testimony on the stand comes off as too technical and alienates the jury while his integrity and expertise are also brought into question during cross-examination.
The technical expert on behalf of Google uses a rather simplified explanation to prove that the two codes are different with a presentation that treats the jury as children, a tactic that was predicted by Lea. During her cross examination, Lea is able to poke some holes in the technical expert’s opinion and possibly sow some doubt in the jury’s minds.
Landing the knockout blow
It all seems to come down to Juri’s testimony, which had a cloud over it from the beginning of the depositions. Juri’s past as a part of Chaos Computer Club, which was responsible for several crimes involving hacking of government database, could be brought up to paint him as an untrustworthy individual.
While he was advised to claim no memory of being part of the club, Juri is adamant not to dismiss such an integral part of his past. Through sheer determination and some digging, he found out that Chaos Computer Club had official membership records and Juri never contributed to, which technically meant that he was never a part of the club.
With his testimony going relatively well, Juri and the rest are shaken by the arrival of Brian Anderson in the courtroom. Juri manages to keep his cool and answer the questions in a favourable manner, which mean that now the verdict would depend on what Brian had to say on the stand.
Brian claims to have a foggy memory and the fact that he travelled the world and met so many people was cause for him to occasionally forget some of them, Juri and Carsten specifically in this particular case. With an ironclad testimony feigning innocence and a spiel about discovering the code while working with his team in his dining room, the case is decided in favour of Google.
Juri and Carsten are left to accept the fact that they alone knew the truth behind it all, that they were the real pioneers of the future in all its glory.