October 21, 2014 by David
Science fiction films are the best way society can take a glimpse into and attempt to predict the future. Many films propose technologies that seem relatively farfetched, unrealistic, like for instance flying cars, hover boards and time travel. However many films like that of Star Trek, Blade Runner and The Matrix have predicted many technologies which have either been introduced to the public over the past few years or are in developmental phases. Some have even been surpassed in terms of technology like that of the flip phone presented in Star Trek.
Recently I discussed these topics with sci-fi film enthusiast, amateur film maker, Dr Ian Simpson.
Q: How successful have films been in predicting the future developments in technology and their effects on humanity?
A: Well that is a very broad question. In short there have been some very remarkable instances of predicting specific items but in predicting the human condition resulting from these technological developments, the films have been way off the mark.
Q: Why have they been way off the mark?
A: Well I think it is easier to extrapolate existing technology to predict a future item than it is to predict how human society will evolve and adapt to technological developments.
Q: Could you be more specific. For example what items (as you call them) have been predicted in films?
A: Well there are many. For example in the 1968 film, “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, there was what looks very much like an iPad; in the many “Star Trek” films there have been, a “flip phone”, a wrist-worn communication device, 3-D printers, video-phone communications and computer speech recognition. Even as far back as 1929, in the film “A Trip to the Moon” a multi-stage rocket was used. Whilst more recently, the films, “Total Recall” in 1990 and “I Robot” in 2004 predicted the development of cars that did not need a human to drive them.
Q: OK so there have been some specific successful predictions, but what about your comment about predicting the human condition as it is affected by these technological developments?
A: Well there are plenty of examples were the film makers got it all wrong. Films from Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis” in 1927 to the 1982 “Blade Runner” and the 1999 “The Matrix”, all predicted a dystopian future. In the “Blade Runner”, Los Angeles in 2019 was a city of contrasts; high-tech, gleaming areas and old decaying areas. This will not happen in the next 5 years. Neither will there be humanoid robots working in off-world colonies in such a short time frame as 5 years. The film “The Matrix” predicted this century a world controlled by sentient machines after a war lost my humanity. It is hard to image this will come to fruition.
Q: Is this because humanity is better at adapting to technological change than the film makers want us to believe?
A: Yes and No. The film makers need conflict to dramatize their story so they envision the extremes. They envision worlds at the dire extremities of technological interactions where everything is reduced to life and death situations. But reality is not like that. At this very moment we have a country undergoing radical changes due to technology. China is moving from an agrarian society to a modern industrial society; the population is being urbanised, but we are not seeing the horrors portrayed in “Metropolis”, nor the dark, grimy world of “Blade Runner”. Like England in the 19th century, China will emerge from its “industrial revolution” without these dire predictions. Neither are we seeing a “final solution” to world overpopulation and limited food supply as depicted in the 1973 film “Soylent Green”, and I hope we never will.