Sci-Fi flicks have always involved some dark, twisted utopian vision of the future. Yeah, you have the flying cars, the laser guns, robots and the like. But the future that is envisioned often features some totalitarian state that governs the people, some macabre unfeeling computer/database that runs the System, an Artificial Intelligence construct controlling civilisation. People are retina scanned and tracked (a la Minority Report); their complete biometric data is stored in databases and perused and controlled by machines, or an elite governing body. Doors, vehicles, weapons, computers all work at the touch of a fingerprint or the scan of a retina for convenience. The futuristic vision of Sci-Fi films is not so far off, with the rate technology is advancing. But how personal is our genetic makeup? How public do we want our DNA records/iris makeup/fingerprint patterns to be?
You see, for me the Science Fiction futuristic cities and societies were always seen as something dangerous, something cold and unfeeling. In the films, people had traded in their personal data and genetic makeup to the higher powers, and the System as it were is always run by some macabre governing body (e.g Equilibrium, 1984- not sci-fi as such but Orwell’s vision of the future, hauntingly accurate) in conjunction with a state-of-the-art AI System (e.g The Matrix, Surrogates etc, etc.)… In the films, the vision of utopia and advancement is seen as beneficial, everyone is “happier” and tasks are much simpler. And yet, the protagonist of the film, the hero of the hour is often the only one to notice how bad things have truly gotten, who sees beyond the facade and notices that something is not right, and that the totalitarian governing body (be it a human gvt. or AI system) is inherently evil, or at least cold and unfeeling enough not to have emotion. In essence, human emotion is usually eroded away in these Sci-Fi film portrayals.. People become much like the very robots that “serve” them, or is it control them?
So yes, we generally have a protagonist who rebels against the system, saves the people, returns humanity back to the humans. Everyone rejoices, the credits roll up, people are satisfied.
And yet it seems as though we are heading towards the future that Sci-Fi films portray. You see the Sci-Fi flicks of note and of the genre stated above are, for me personally, a warning. A warning that we do not lose our humanity too much. A warning that we do not head towards a society run by computers, AI, systems beyond our control.. That we do not accede total power to those above, for after all, the government’s strengths should lie in the fact that the people are, in essence, in control – it is the people that elect the government. Once the government/governing body (e.g AI construct, extended database etc) extends its control and grasp of power beyond that of the people, then it becomes dangerous. For me, these films/novels etc are a warning. After all, the “hero” of the story is often one who liberates the people from this reality, the reality of being under total control and surveillance. Often the hero defeats the government, or the head of the government, or destroys the system of control.. Basically the hero gives humanity back to the people. Orwell’s 1984, I don’t know about you but for me the novel was a stark warning as to the dangers of acceding too much power to those already in power, the dangers of technology and surveillance, and many more subtle warnings that encompass the novel itself.
For me, these films and novels reflect warnings and dangers. But it seems that for many, they merely offer blueprints for the evolution of societies.
We are at an age of exponential growth, technologically and so forth. But I do not feel we are mature enough to handle this growth. It is the 21st Century, the new millenium. But we have not eradicated war. We have not eradicated poverty. We still do not trust our leaders, and they have probably lost more of our trust now than ever. Conversly, they do not trust us. In an age of surveillance, the underlying motto is “if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear”. Hence the increased control and the restrictions on human rights. And so we find technologies such as nano-chips and nano-machines being developed, mass surveillance of our own societies, advanced weaponry and warfare… all of which serve beneficial purposes but also hint at very dark, very scary repercussions. And we do not trust our leaders to use them wisely. Especially those who realise our leaders are more than the elected officials, our leaders are the ones with the most capital to realise their ambitions.
When you look at futuristic societies as depicted in films and books, people often have much done for them, the advancement of technology being so great that people often appear slower and languid, more at-ease, perhaps happier- perhaps with less obvious emotion (!). People take more time it often appears, and many tasks such as opening a door or even driving are automated or performed by robots/AI systems. But this is, again, a worrying example of acceding power and control to others. But regardless, people have easier lives and take more time to do things, they relax more it seems, and do not have the frenzied hustle and bustle of many of our western societies, where we do not live for the moment but rather live for the future. Contrasting to the future envisioned by Sci-Fi films, today, everyone is busy – time is always an issue and there is always things to be done. It almost appears as if everyone is working frantically towards something, to a better “tomorrow” if you will. And perhaps, subconsciously, that is what people feel, or rather, what they are told. It seems as though somewhere, the leaders of the capitalist world are whispering to the tiny workers below, saying “Yes, work harder, faster, better, we need to work towards progress.. one day you will be able to relax, and everything will be done for you. We just need you to work now, and let us run everything for you. Trust us, we know what is best for you”.
Maybe I am being too cynical, but my main point is that, for me, the vision of the future as depicted by sci-fi films is a cold and unwelcoming place, where people have traded in their humanity. Personally, I feel that our uniqueness lies in our biometric data. Our DNA codes are what make us who we are! Our fingerprints are unique to our individual being! Our retina information is personal to each individual! So why, why, should we ever give this up, for any reason? No reason, for me, is good enough for me to have my personal information, the building blocks that make us each a unique person, stored in a system, either publicly or privately. No threat to safety, “terrorism”, or anything could make me want to hand over my personal information and data. I will quite happily push open the door, thankyou, without having my iris scanned. I will drive manually, thankyou, without fingerprint scanning.
You may think that sci-fi films/novels are merely works of fiction, they do not represent reality. But you are wrong if you think so. Science Fiction has influenced Science, and has been influenced by Science, for generations. Look at the films and novels of the past, and compare it with technological and scientific advances. Look at the world around you today. Nano-machines, Global mapping, Interactivity, Brain mapping, Genome mapping, Genetic modification, increased surveillance, high-definition TV/cameras, the list goes on and on and on. Many of the ideas of these technologies were present in Science Fiction before they were even invented. In Orwell’s 1984, CCTV watches the masses before CCTV-like technology was even invented. And not all of the technological advances have been for the “benefit” of mankind – the military technology advancements that have occurred over the decades, the technological advances aimed at destruction rather than growth, have also accelerated. Imagine if military budgets were spent, just for a year or so, on renewable or beneficial services…
But it seems as though we are heading for such a future as depicted by science fiction genres. A technologically advanced society, where our governments have total control and we are all tagged, catalogued, and surveyed at all times. Where our personal unique data is recorded in databases run by “The System”, whatever shape or form that will take. Just think about these things, as you find out via the mass media news networks of the “marvelous” new technology that has come into focus, or the “beneficial” aspects it will bring. Think of the negative effects, the things the news does not show you. Think for yourself. Think of the things they don’t tell you, the technology the governments or intelligence agencies are working on in secret, perhaps a few leaked documents or rumours surface but what of the rest? Think of the future you want to live in.. and who or what you want controlling your lives.
* All images taken from NewEvolutionDesigns – free stock photos
- The Total Control Society Is Here: Iris Scanners by John W. Whitehead (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Eight reasons why you should oppose Unique Identification: Stop … (kafila.org)
- Rise of the robots and the future of war (guardian.co.uk)
- Warning of new era of surveillance state (telegraph.co.uk)