Great Movies about the Future

Finally, we arrived in the future of back to the future (2). Time to ask: What are the greatest movies about the future?

In this post I'll try to describe my opinion about the greatest movies about the future. First, let me define greatest. I don't want to talk about which movie was the most enjoyable. My definition of greatest in this post is about the (potential) accuracy of the illustrated snapshot of the future. This accuracy could be also reflected in the conveyed message.

The definition alone excludes some movies instantaneously. For instance Alien has, unfortunately, to be dropped. The movie is great and potentially there is a life form out there, which may or may not be close to the described organism (acid-like blood or the breeding mechanism should be different, but who cares about such details). However, the illustrated space-travel, terminals, and robotics purely belong to science-fiction and won't be realized in the described fashion.

A more realistic view of space exploration could be gained by the recent film The Martian. Besides a few minor details the whole setting was really dedicated to be as plausible as possible. Besides The Martian there are barely any realistic (or serious) space movies out there. Is space really that boring that we have to come up with some kind of flux capacitor to make it interesting? I don't want to start with a lecture in "physics of Star Trek" (inertia dampers anyone?). Needless to say that space can be a lot of fun, e.g., Interstellar. That one was pretty amazing.

There are some movies I'd love to list here, but either the date or the setting is somehow undefined, thus excluding them. An example is The Matrix. Even if I could date it (2199?), we still would never know if we are actually captured in the matrix. The setting within the matrix is 1999, which obviously is super accurate (as it was produced at that time).

Without further ado here is my personal top 5. I'll descend the list to the top spot.

#5: Code 46

There are a number of movies that deal with genetic advancements and the threats exposed by genetic selection / tests. The one I like the most is certainly Gattaca. It is a timeless movie with a strong message. It is also a very great movie. Code 46 is not timeless. Its also not such a great movie as Gattaca.

But the recent developments around the world show that the movie was actually right in a couple of things. There is definitely a separator between two kinds of people: Those, who are invited to use technology, travel, and explore all the possibilities of this world and those, who are born in poverty without any chance of experiencing something of the former.

It seems like we create more and more barriers for people, who have just been unlucky with their place of birth. This is a sad development. Additionally, the film also features full surveillance. Sounds familiar? I don't want to go into details here, but I guess there won't be any change in this direction unless enough proponents have been found.

#4: Blade Runner

Flying cars, robots, mega cities, ... That sounds like somebody merged Back to the Future with Judge Dredd. But honestly, this movie has a lot of elements that are current, up-to-date, and accurate.

I think the language ("Cityspeak") is in fact a trend that is very real. Many languages integrate English words and also the colloquial English gets one or the other word from popular culture in foreign countries. Who would have thought that the German word "├╝ber" would become such a popular word ("uber" - there is even a company which uses this word) around the world?

The core of the movie is a discussion about AI. Well, the same discussion is more true today than ever before. Granted, we are far away from building machines that can really think (and learn) autonomously with the degrees of freedom and creativity as shown in the movie. Nevertheless, it seems that we try very hard to reach this point.

Besides technology, the movie accurately displays horrible weather.

#3: Cloud Atlas

There are two parts of the story, which are set in the future. One is "Neo Seoul" and the other one is "After the Fall". The latter is just too far away / undetermined. Hence we can only discuss the "Neo Seoul" part.

The theme here is different from the discussion about genetics in movies, such as Gatteca. Instead the topic is ethnicity in the context of human clones. Alright, we have movies such as The Island (interesting first half, followed by nice CGI explosions). What is different here? Well, the whole setting is embedded in the overall story-line, where a soul / character has multiple lives. This is a much stronger indicator that these clones indeed have souls (otherwise we could place them in the same discussion as machines with advanced AI - see Ex Machina).

So to keep it short and sweet. I believe that some time in the future rising water levels may actually be more than a threat for a number of cities. I also believe that capitalism will eat the world if nothing changes. Even though cloning for cheap labor is hard to support, companies would certainly try to use it. We all know that low-cost country sourcing is a common thing despite the partially horrible circumstances in the target countries. Still, everybody is happily buying an xPhone (yes, x is a variable here).

#2: I, Robot

Such a cool movie. The car ... fantastic. And does it look like the BMW i8? In a way it does. Actually it looks more like an Audi TT (or R8), but that was expected. If Audi designs the car for the film, why should they drop the design afterwards? Its applicable and looks quite nice.

I wish I, Robot would be more realistic. The parking garages are really nice. Some modern garages have similar systems. Using the underground for fast transportation is super cool, but unfortunately it would take decades to integrate that into current cities - if it is possible at all (water pipes, electricity, underground, ... are all there already - that's just too much).

How about the robots or guns? In Japan they are already starting to produce such (1st gen) robots. These robots are certainly coming. I don't know about their abilities, their purposes, or anything else - but there is a demand. Besides that the whole topic of AI is discussed (again). Furthermore, we also experience the problem with IoT from the robotics point of view: What if somebody else can just take the control? Uplink - yeah! Sounds like Windows Update to me.

#1: Minority Report

I guess placing Minority Report in the top spot is no surprise. The movie is accurate (or will be). Automatically driving cars? We'll do that. Specifically in the city? Where else?! Cool interfaces with touch (possibly with a glove for better accuracy / more options, even though not required in general)? All done, sir!

I won't go into a discussion about the "procogs". I am more interested in some core concepts such as out-of-home (OOH) advertising. Right now, online advertising has the significant advantage of knowing / spying / tracking its clients very effectively. This allows ad companies to show ads to the right target groups. In Minority Report eye trackers are installed in all public places. Once somebody has been scanned individual advertising can be started.

At some point this level of surveillance can potentially be reached. We need to stop this. But a certain level is already available, and the possibility to show one-to-one or one-to-many ads is also already given. Right now the whole system is based on low-energy powered Bluetooth devices (beacons). In certain apps triggers are available that continuously scan for available beacons. Once connected a set of simple information will be exchanged, allowing services to identify users or groups. At this point advertising may be changed to target the currently available groups (or maybe even individuals) more accurately.

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