The strangest thing about fiction is it can become truth. Especially science fiction. Twelve years ago Stephen Spielberg’s version of a Philip K. Dick future rolled across movie screens, a powerfully detailed vision of a technology-dependent society where murder is eradicated, and the state and corporations are using tech to continually surveill citizens. Minority Report was not only a huge hit, its vision of the future became lodged in our psyches.
Why? It was dramatic but relatable, a comforting vision that was nonetheless unsettling. It also had a future for everyone: tech that made people drool, but all for different reasons. For marketers, it was the shopping mall scenes and news technology. For anyone in law enforcement, those flying police vehicles – and the precognition. For doctors, and criminals, readily available identifiable organ replacement. For the bereaved, memory banks. For car fans, roller coaster self-driving vehicles that climbed buildings. I watched it again recently and its future felt as fresh, just barely remote and possible as ever.
How much has become real? You might be surprised. Here’s how close we are to some of that tech:
Biometric identification and authentication by iris: Check. In wide use; I used it myself personally yesterday. Vendor IrisID has been active since 1997, and it’s used for all kinds of authentication applications, most famous of which is the Nexus/Global Alliance passenger ID system.
Replaceable eyes: Nowhere close to the level of creepy casual disposability in the film, thankfully. However, stem cell research by Ocata, previously Advanced Cell Technology has shown its therapy can improve vision, and robotics have been able to bring sight back to damaged retinae.
Beacons: The scene with the Gap and Rolex targeted ads? Already happening, as you’ll know if you’ve researched toasters online recently. This is called remarketing and is gradually moving in store. We can only hope for the day the ad server knows we bought the toaster. (Not sure even Philip K. Dick foresaw Facebook ad retargeting as a weapon of psychological warfare.) For the physical version of retargeting, Apple’s iBeacons are leading the way, with PayPal and Qualcomm in pursuit.
Facial recognition: In use by law enforcement with scattered commercial use; personal use on smartphones not far behind.
Digital paper: LG has produced an ultra thin electronic paper that looks like the newspaper from the mall scene. Not in mass use or even mass production yet.
Airborne law enforcement: Unmanned drones are everywhere; manned nowhere. Flying police vehicles a la Minority Report also do not seem to be a commercial priority. Should you be in the market, the Panther seems like a nice starter drone. And hey – 55% off!
GPS: Ubiquitous, in every imaginable type of device.
Self-driving cars: Not yet in use by consumers, but Google has made no secret of its ambition to change the most basic aspects of how we move short distances, and is using self-driving cars in both tests and real business use. So far no Smartcars hanging off buildings though.
Tiny bot detectives: Robotics are now in common use, for everything from surveillance to transportation to bomb disposal. Doubtless we are not far from territory-scanning sensory botlets. Whether they will look and sound like insects … debatable.
Precognition: Sorry, still pure science fiction. Mostly.