Technology and Humans

Stories like Brave New World and Minority Report are just a small representation of the capacious genre of dystopian science-fiction tales set far in the future in what has many times been an unsettlingly accurate attempt to predict the direction and result of years of technological development and, of course, the impact on society. As a measure of the relevance of technology, that fact may say something of technology’s inescapable influence on any future humankind has (though there are better measures, like the relative dominance of computer software and gadget companies in the stock market, like Apple and IBM, and such companies’ unprecedented sales numbers and the development of increasingly impressive computer devices like smart phones, tablets, and the supercomputer Watson).

            Technology is primarily developed to increase efficiency, but not always with an outcome including increased productivity. Smart phones are a wonderfully timely and relevant example of that. In the field of business, for example, having a smart phone that allows one to check their email, do research, and, as of recently, even take credit card payments (with an accessory to the phone called Square) can easily create a much more productive worker and allow one to do what would take many people and more time before the rise of smart phones. However, things like the game Angry Birds, Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and many other forms of time-consuming mindlessness can also very much impede performance and waste what would be valuable time to those who have better uses for such technology. Such unintended applications of emerging technologies usually play some role in futuristic visions of the world with evolved technology gone awry.

            In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagines the developing study of sciences like genetics and psychology in his own time maturing into an abominable practice that has replaced natural human birth, as well as mothers and fathers all together, with the factory-like production and development of humans whose physical and mental characteristics are manipulated by what today would be considered a ghastly method of human reproduction (or perhaps human “production” is more precise) and practices like oxygen deprivation and alcohol treatments are used to create inferior humans for the lower classes with qualities like stunted growth and inhibited intelligence. Of course, this result is not the intention of contemporary genetic research and other related sciences, but Huxley envisions this outcome as an unintended but possible future if technology is not kept within general ethical standards.

            Minority Report includes situations in which eye scanners and enormous television screens placed nearly everywhere one goes saturate society with advertising based on information collected about ones demographics, interests, and social status. These things are visible now with advertising on Facebook that is tailored to the information you make available on the social network, like your age, gender, and interests. Are the intentions of Facebook’s advertising department to lead the way to a Minority Report future? Not likely, but just as Brave New World shows what the wrong utilization of certain sciences and technology can reap, so does Minority Report show what kind of future can be had if certain identification and human monitoring practices and technologies are left to run out of control. When conceived, such predictions of how humanity will handle the inevitable progress of technology are not usually meant to be taken literally. Both Brave New World and Minority Report are set in futures which operate within the realm of a possible reality, but they are meant more to make a statement and evoke thinking rather than predict the future.

            Minority Report, set in the year 2054, is about a special police unit that foresees murders before they actually occur and then intercepts the criminal, therein preventing the murder. This special police unit is aptly named Precrime and the movies protagonist, John Anderton, is chief of the Precrime unit. The Precrime unit has seen considerable success – there hasn’t been a murder for six years – through its three psychics, who are kept in what the Precrime police have nicknamed “The Temple” and float forever in a strange liquid and are hooked up to a big screen so as to project the images of the future that they see. The movie’s pace quickens when the Pre-cogs, which is what the psychics in the movie are called, predict that Anderton will murder someone. He believes he was framed, and has to run from his own team of detectives armed with jetpacks, flying cars and helicopters, imaginative guns that don’t seem to be lethal, and the omniscience of Andertons whereabouts that goes along with having eye scanners nearly everywhere. These are probably the best examples of the futuristic technology Minority Report displays.

          Minority Report offers many interesting thoughts about the future, but leans closer to a world overrun with commercialism rather than Brave New World’s efficiency-based world, in which everything about human life has been optimized to make each and every person as useful and productive as they can possible be. The future of Minority Report is much less cynical. In fact, it isn’t all that different from ours now. Certain things seem to just be emphasized a little more, prominently the apparent and clearly intentional swarm of advertising that follows and greets Anderton just about everywhere he goes in public. Once again, this is already quite real while on the internet; anywhere you go on the internet, you are advertised to based on information about you. All of the recent technological advancements have meant nothing to the world’s companies except new advertising mediums. Will the corporations present in 2054 think any differently?

            Brave New World and Minority Report have somewhat similar anticipations for what technology will bring, and less similar ideas for how exactly humanity will act with such advancements. Howbeit, they both have their fair share of controversial ethical questions. Brave New World depicts all of the current taboos – from sex, to drugs, to genetic manipulation – of humanity as the “right” way to do things with a complete absence of sensitivity to the fact that nearly every aspect of Huxley’s world is as taboo as it gets. Though Huxley’s world is unimaginable, it is hardly the case that taboos stay the same for very long. The world of Minority Report may be closer to us, but when looking at the long, often regrettable history of humanity it’s hard to say Huxley’s backwards world couldn’t exist.

            Minority Report explores the concept of arresting and jailing people before they have actually committed any crime. Any new technology or scientific discovery is usually accompanied by challenging ethical decisions, and Minority Report once again emphasizes this to the extent of future-predicting technology and likely murder. With the elimination of murder on one side of the scale and the chance that the predictions are wrong on the other, how can one really be ethical? If murder prevention were available at the cost of the occasional mistake (which would be pretty costly) but was not used, what could be said to a mother whose child has been murdered? These types of unanswerable questions accompany the slippery-slope technology of Minority Report which has been safely out of humanity’s reach.

            Minority Report seems to be Hollywood’s optimistic interpretation of Brave New World. As scary as commercialism seems in this day and age, it’s likely that the general public would agree that it is far better than Huxley’s family-less, soma-induced, highly controlled future (especially when considering that commercialism pretty much rules all already). The ideas in both stories of what technology will be around in the future are similar, but the overall image of the future differs rather noticeably. Minority Report shows humanity slowly struggling to use their advancing technology in the best ways possible for society, whereas the human race of Brave New World has been misusing their technology for a very long time. As a matter of fact, the clash between the savage known as John and the Brave New World is actually in some sense an allegory for our modern beliefs being brought against the radically opposite culture in which the usefulness of technology somehow grows into a world of absolute control. One perspective may be that Minority Report is headed in the direction of Brave New World, due to their pursuit of the “right” use of technology. However, without addressing the humane and ethical concerns that accompany any new technology, it’s not hard to imagine how the right intentions can bring an outcome like Brave New World.

          There are as many glaring differences as there are mirroring similarities between the concepts of the future in Brave New World and Minority Report. Among all of the creative ideas, ethical dilemmas, and dystopian outlooks, there is one question looming over the entire discussion of the two stories: Why is our high-tech future always so bad? Is it simply for the sake of entertaining consumers? Are appall and atrophy really so enjoyable? If so, why not just film another super-climactic, doomsday Mission Impossible, rather than take the time to articulate an extensively cerebral plot with obviously more than explosions and car chases in mind for the audience?

            The similarly gloomy projections of the two stories are curious. Can’t the future be a little brighter? Technology can be defined as such because it solves problems, so where would even the most imaginative of individuals come up with idea that it would effectively ruin society as we like it today? Of course we know that certain types of technology are nothing but trouble. But we aren’t talking about apocalyptic nuclear wars or some kind of wild virus capable of wiping out an entire race. These futures include conscious, controlled steps toward practices and lifestyles we would shudder at today, which signals that it is much less technology that is the problem than the human factor in all of it. In fact, when speaking of Precrime in Minority Report as the “perfect system,” Department of Justice agent Danny Witwer says that the only error “can be human.” The largest commonality within these two insightful tales is simply a wonderful display of how hopelessly flawed humans really are.   

Minority Report (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)
Amazon Price: $12.98 $1.06 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 24, 2015)
The movie starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell full of action, suspense, and warnings about the use of technology in the future.
Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited
Amazon Price: $16.99 $8.32 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 24, 2015)
The classic novel by Aldous Huxley, with additional essays, letters to other famous writers, and various other work by this prolific thinker.