Minority Dissent: How Wired Missed the Precogged Future that Wasn’t

Posted by on June 21st, 2012

Wired magazine is celebrating the ten year anniversary of the Steven Spielberg film MINORITY REPORT in an article that talks about the secret summit where technologists were invited to imagine the world of 2080 (revised to 2050 for the film) as well as a piece that covers all of the ideas MINORITY REPORT introduced that now have become a reality. There’s only one problem, for avid futurists, MINORITY REPORT was already mired in the past. The film didn’t so much predict the future as much as retread ideas that had been around in the 60’s several of which were already outdated by the release.

In a section that measured up 10 key technologies from the film, the Wired staff judged how accurate the predictions were. They failed to mention how a number of the technologies they credited to the “idea summit” were already in use. For some technologies they dismissed they seemed to have entirely missed current areas of research. Here’s a look at Wired’s list and our thoughts:

Iris recognition: Retina scanning, the first biometric security measure using the eye was commercially available in 1981. This method was first discussed in the 1930’s. More advanced iris scanning was in practical use before the release of the film.

Self-driving cars: The vehicles in MINORITY REPORT used a specially built highways system because they couldn’t imagine cars ever being able to drive themselves on the roads and highways we use today. While the futurists were locked away in their hotel conference room deciding this, hundreds of miles to the north, the nascent Google was already laying the groundwork for a technological revolution that would see robotic cars drive the California highway less than a decade later.

Spiderbots: Robots built like spiders were already available in toy stores. Keen watchers of Return of the Jedi remember one lurking around Jabba’s palace. The Michael Crichton directed film RUNAWAY featured hundreds of them trying to kill future cop Tom Selleck.

Predictive policing: A core idea of the story by Philip K. Dick, this concept has been around for decades. Law enforcement agencies have been using computer modeling for years to try to predict and apply resources to trouble spots. Psychic policing always has been and will be a fantasy. Predicting crime and stopping it before it happens is child’s play anyhow; real cops use time travel to go back and fix things after they happened.

Holograms: Holograms have been a staple of science fiction forever. In Wired’s run down, Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms makes the statement, “The problem with Star Wars-style 3-D projected in mid-air is that the physics don’t work.” Which physics do you speak of? Better not tell these researchers here who have managed to do this feat by using lasers to generate plasma excitations in free floating oxygen and nitrogen molecules. Other researchers are experimenting with water jets and dust particles suspended by sound.

Sick sticks: In MINORITY REPORT cops could tap you with a baton that made you lose your lunch. Stun wands, sonic disruptors and fields were already either in use or being tested by the military long before MINORITY REPORT. The idea of a weapon that made you lose bodily control actually goes as far back as Tesla.

Personalized billboards: We were already being bombarded with personalized ads on the web via tracking cookies since 1996. Max Headroom explored the impact of this in 1987.

Gestural interfaces: Wired hailed the hand waving interaction of Tom Cruise’s with the police computer as futuristic. For anybody that remembers the Nintendo Power Glove, it was an artifact from the past (1990 to be exact). By the time MINORITY REPORT was released, researchers were already moving away from the idea of using gloves, to actual visual imaging systems that could recognize what your hands are doing. 20 million Microsoft Kinects later, the glow gloves scene from MINORITY REPORT is as laughable as a brick phone or a pager.

E-Newspapers: Digital paper was a laboratory demo in the 1990’s and a much theorized technology before then. While Wired says this could hit the mainstream in the next five years, they must have missed the issue of Esquire 4 years ago that featured this on the cover. The real question is in the iPad age, will we ever go back to traditional-sized newspapers when e-paper becomes dirt cheap? Stanley Kubrick looked a lot more prescient in 1968 than the futurists of MINORITY REPORT thirty years later.

Jetpacks: Wired writes off the jetpacks of MINORITY REPORT as implausible tech included for cinematic purposes. We’re going to take Spielberg’s side on this one. Since the release of MINORITY REPORT we’ve found that the military has made use of jet-assisted bat suits and we’ve seen daredevils use personal rocket propulsion to perform stunts every bit as exhilarating as what was in the film. For anyone saying don’t hold your breath for a practical jetpack, the same could have been said for remote controlled drones controlled by your phone (now available in toy stores) or rockets that land themselves (now being tested).

One Response to “Minority Dissent: How Wired Missed the Precogged Future that Wasn’t”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    and Andrew Mayne accused me of being pessimistic? He criticizes the whole movie here. There is an important line about Spielberg in that Wired article. He thought he could only push it so far so as to not lose people, to not blow their minds too much about the future. I think if movie budgets were not so expensive, Spielberg might gone far forward in what the futurists wanted. Minority Report is probably not intended for Andrew Mayne.

    Before Google even existed there were other companies working on self-driving cars, like Calspan. 

    I do like the precogs being tied into quantum theory. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a Weird Things favorite, had some cool thoughts about quantum theory in a YouTube video with Colbert a few years ago. Also, to hear NASA’s former propulsion expert thinking quantum physics might allow multiple times FSL travel is cool. At least give Spielberg credit for that one.

    Have to admit that in that bad movie, Red Planet, their digital paper is pretty cool:


    I don’t know if you really can make a futuristic movie any more. So much information is out there already on what is coming. Roland Emmerich is trying to do one on the Singularity.