The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Spielberg's Minority Report
Almost 20 years since its release, Spielberg’s Minority Report eerily predicts our current state of modern life and technology.
“The fact that all of these bleak real-world ideas exist in what is, ostensibly, a summer popcorn movie featuring one of the planet’s biggest movie stars remains remarkable. 20 years later, Minority Report is both a terrific blockbuster and endlessly thought-provoking. It still feels ahead of its time” – Syfy.
What Minority Report got right in 2021
After E.T., Spielberg decided to consult experts to ensure more accurate scientific research goes into his films. In 1999, he invited fifteen professionals convened by leading consulting firm, The Global Business Network, who specialised in helping organisations adapt and grow in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world. Chaired by Peter Schwartz and Stewart Brand, this three-day “think tank” intended to create a plausible “future reality,” opposed to a traditional science-fiction film.
Instead of using a VR or AR headset, Cruise uses a large piece of smart-glass that displays everything he needs to see, all at once. Whilst appearing out of our realm just now, some similar capabilities already exist. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner possesses smart-tint windows, with adoption taking place on 777s and some Airbus planes. This basic technology has been around for years – even appearing in limited form in Mercedes-Benz sunroofs.
Manufacturers in the automobile industry are also testing the potential of smart-glass windows. At the 2020 CES event, Gentex announced several new features, including; variable visor bands, self-darkening side glass, and HUD combiners/heads-up displays that use pop-ups or stationary combiners instead of the windshield. This means that GPS-information could be visible in front of the driver, instead of on a separate screen. Smart helmets are already available for purchase for motorcyclists, and General Motors are working on designs to entertain passengers.
AR displays information in the air around the user that is usually produced through a wearable lens. Whilst the Google Glasses experienced some setbacks, Microsoft has unveiled a more functional hololens, which presents an entirely new way for humans to interact with computers. Applicable in science, surgery, medicine and much more.
The problem with retina scanning is that it’s invasive and time-consuming compared to fingerprinting or facial and iris recognition software. However, the exponential improvement of camera technology has allowed these features to be incorporated and easy-to-use every day in the modern iPhone.
When Cruise returns home, he watches homemade videos of his family that seemingly float in the air in 2D. In 2012, Coachella supposedly projected a “hologram” of Tupac performing on stage, but, like the movie, he also presented in 2D, which doesn’t technically classify as a hologram. However, there have been advances in the hologram space, where actual 3D forms have been created using high-powered lasers, but they are dangerous as they can burn through skin. Therefore, Japanese researchers are experimenting with safer forms of holographic technology to create free-floating holograms that react to the human touch. In Australia, another company has developed a functional laser hologram machine that creates 3D holograms that float in the dark – without the use of special glasses or headsets.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of this future world film is the depiction of automated cars and smart-roads. In 2021, out of the six levels of AVs, we’ve obtained level 1 (driver assistance), level 2 (partial automation), and companies like Tesla have broken into level 3 (conditional automation). However, Elon Musk has ambitiously claimed that by the end of this year, Tesla will be fully self-driving, hitting level 5.
There was also an indication of fully-robotic assembly centres for the cars. In 2018, a Japanese company in the e-commerce sector brought this vision to life and intends to automate all warehouses across the US.
Predictive policing and thermal mapping
The narrative pervading the film of predictive policing remains topical today. Various tools from drones, thermal mapping, AI, big data, ubiquitous surveillance and improvements in detection technology have helped expose crimes from credit card fraud, spam emails and abnormal behaviour that suggests malicious intent.
In 2020, when demonstrations over police brutality were rife in Baltimore, local police used the Cessna T207’s battlefield-developed HawkEye II Wide Area Surveillance System cameras to record people’s movements. Labelled the ‘Spy Plane’, the police have stated that the camera’s use is to locate witnesses, suspects and vehicles related to serious “target crimes” such as homicides and armed robberies. But where does the safety end, and invasion of privacy begin?
Inspiring the future
Minority Report forecasted a future that has since come to life 30 years ahead of predictions. Arguably, however, the forward-thinking technology inspired – rather than predicted – our future; at the 2007 unveiling of the then Microsoft Surface, a representative stated that the technology “will feel like Minority Report.” Then in 2010, according to the Fast Company, “IBM’s new system feels almost directly inspired by Minority Report – similar to the PreCogs, it uses predictive analytics to forecast criminal hot spots.” And in 2012, Al Guido told HP that he wanted something “more like the sci-fi touchscreens in Minority Report,” exclaiming that “they have all these touchscreens, and people are moving stuff, and I just felt that, that is where [the future] is heading!”
Although Spielberg presents a menacing undertone via the movie’s narrative, the imagination and predictive analysis of future technologies remain incredible to this day. Perhaps this is because the intention was to create a story based around future technologies – rather than fitting the technology into the storyline.
The only thing that Spielberg and his expert team miscalculated was the phenomenal pace of technology deployment. The ground-breaking, world-changing tech we see passing through incubators and attracting Venture Capital investors’ interest every day has concertinaed Spielberg’s fifty-two-year time frame into twenty – even ten years took us to the edge of imagination!