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We Are Already Living in Hollywood’s Dystopian Future

Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world where genetically engineered replicant robots prowled the dank, steel-and-microchip urban jungles a la Blade Runner. Likewise for the Minority Report future in which creepy pale kids call people out for murders they had not yet committed. It’s been 30 years since Blade Runner [...]

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Meet Pris from Blade Runner, your friendly psychotic robot. Photo: Traumatron Illustration

Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world where genetically engineered replicant robots prowled the dank, steel-and-microchip urban jungles a la Blade Runner. Likewise for the Minority Report future in which creepy pale kids call people out for murders they had not yet committed. It’s been 30 years since Blade Runner graced screens and blew minds, and today is the 10th anniversary of Minority Report’s release. Both movies paint a bleak but technologically superior view of the future—but are we already living in that world?

According to the BBC, in some ways, we are. For example, Blade Runner’s hover cars aren’t as far-fetched as they once were back in 1982:

In April, TekGoblin reported that US company Terrafugia had created the first prototype flying car which meets the standards of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

But with an expected price tag of about £180,000 ($280,000), it looks like car travel in the air will still not be a daily occurrence for many.

Iris scanning from Minority Report is becoming ho-hum for many travelers already:

 Even though they cannot be used on moving individuals, as in Minority Report, iris detection devices are used at border agencies all over the world, and were in use at Manchester and Birmingham airports until relatively recently.

Facial recognition technology has been developed and has been rolled out in 25 bars in San Francisco. In this case the technology is not being used for national security – but to provide a snapshot of the type of crowd frequenting these establishments.

How about those gesture-based computer interfaces everyone remembers Tom Cruise slapping around?

John Underkoffler, the scientist who developed the system for Minority Report, set up Oblong Industries to develop and market it. He told TED in 2010: “We’re not finished until all the computers in the world work like this.”

The triumph of touchscreen interfaces is an obvious prelude. The Apple iPhone has offered “pinch”, “pull” and “swipe” features for the past five years, and the Microsoft Kinect games system allows users to control the action with their movements.

As for predictions of wrongdoing, there’s no kids kept in a weird pool, but some police departments are working on warding off crime before it happens:

Memphis Police Department in Tennessee is working with IBM on a system that analyses crime trends to predict where police should be deployed. IBM say this has helped reduce crime by 30%.

And of course, no conversation about Blade Runner is complete without mention of artificial intelligence.

At the moment, the closest is IBM’s Watson, which beat human contestants on US gameshow Jeopardy.

Companies have not yet been able to create a machine that can combine human behavior and language with the mechanics of human movement, Sawyer adds.

For now, at least, we can breathe easy: the robot revolution is still a few years down the pipeline.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Origins of Futurism 

I Have Seen the Future

Fighting Terrorism in the Future 

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