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Future in Films: Minority Report

Kenton Reynolds

Kenton Reynolds, Writer
@uxconnections

The next installment of the Future in Films series will be on the futuristic world created in Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller, Minority Report, where we see Tom Cruise in the role of John Anderton; a detective in the Department of Pre-Crime where murders are seen before they happen, and the team must decode clues and stop the crime before it takes place.

The Department of Pre-Crime

Three people, called Precogs, that are able to see the future in memory-like visions have their electrical impulses in their brains read and converted into a video format that the detectives are then able to investigate. If we assume that the Precogs experience their visions in the same way that we have memories; a technology that would be incredibly useful from both a recreational perspective (recording devices would become obsolete) as well as for investigation purposes. We also see this tech used again later in the film where Anerton watches his memories of his son growing up via a 3D projector. Researchers at Berkeley have taken steps towards this sort of technology recently as they have been using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to create video output from our visual experiences. 

The video from the Precogs is hazy with lots of small, vague snippets of information that Anderton then has to sift through to find useful clues. This means he often has several videos playing on repeat alongside images such as ID photos of victims/perpetrators. For this Anderton has a large, glass screen that is comparable in appearance to the NordicTrack Fitness Vault as it shows the display whilst also being transparent enough to see what is behind. However, unlike the Vault, the display has motion controls with Cruise wearing gloves that the computer responds to in a similar way to the Oculus Quest’s controllers in the way that their movements provide the machine with input but the gloves are completely buttonless.

The wider world

As we see the story move outside of the department, we get a look at the tech in the world of 2054. Advertising is taken to the extreme with targeted ads seen when Anderton ends up in the Gap store. A female virtual assistant recognises Anderton – the film suggests this comes from a retinal scan – and greets him, asking for his opinion on his recent purchases and recommending certain items. Currently, we experience targeted ads very regularly in our daily lives on the internet which use Cookie and trackers to watch us traverse the world wide web. Replicating this in store would mean that retinal scans are carried out in many stores and shared in order to create profiles for consumers. With the current trend in privacy, this seems fairly unrealistic as governments and more ethical firms are shifting towards less invasive tracking of consumers. However, the technology to create such a system is certainly within our grasp and would be favourable to firms who could introduce it to see an increase in sales as well as revenue because they would be able to move towards first degree price discrimination (where each consumers pays the maximum price they are possibly willing to pay).

We also see the replacement of still images with videos in the future in some places. In one scene, Anderton eating children’s cereal before throwing the box across the room in anger. The box is not clear in shot but is animated and appears to have characters dancing on the box as opposed to the image we would see on a usual box. We can also infer that the substance used to create this – some smart form of cardboard – is incredibly cheap as John simply discards it. E-paper, like you would see in an original Kindle, has reached this capability now but this is expensive technology and certainly is nowhere as streamlined as in Minority Report. Furthermore, we see a moving newspaper later in the film which not only shows videos but also has live updates. This is an even more complex concept as the paper would not only need to be smart but also have an internet connection to receive input and update its videos. Whilst the footprints of this tech are there, we are unable to use it for tasks with this level of complexity and the hardware is still clumsy unlike in the film where the newspaper still has the look and feel of real paper.

The film is set in 2054, and plenty of the technology we see is still conceivable as being available in that year. Whilst most of it is still out of reach right now, we could certainly see advanced research and development take us towards these exciting innovations.

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