6 Futuristic Movie Scenarios Already Disproven By Science
One of the most popular genres of movie is "HERE'S WHERE WE'RE HEADED," and the vast majority of those involve some kind of horrific yet awesome breakdown of society. The only problem with this is that a lot of the scenarios Hollywood makes us think await us aren't just wrong. When you look at the actual science involved, you learn that they're the opposite of what's likely going to happen.
Overpopulation Makes Sci-Fi Writers Shit Their Pants, But Real-Life Overpopulation Isn't The Problem
There's a whole category of post-apocalyptic movies in which humanity's worst enemy is not zombies, aliens, or cyborgs, but our own genitalia. As in the whole planet is overpopulated to the point of disaster, with the frantic masses being forced to fight over the seven remaining crumbs of food and half-drop of oil.
You might remember recent examples, like the sprawling, slum-infested Dredd or the crowded planet-sized ghetto in Elysium ...
The first resource to run out was soap.
... but this trope goes way back to classic films like Soylent Green, in which the government rounds up hordes of people in physical scooping dump trucks and then solves the lack of food by ... well, we don't want to spoil the movie for you. Let's just say it's not a good dinner date flick.
Unless you've both spent a season in the Andes and miss the cuisine.
The idea that we're heading toward a population crisis might seem frighteningly feasible to anyone who has ever visited a shopping mall, but the problem isn't as dire when you look at the data. Economists like Max Roser point out that across the world, fertility rates are in fact shrinking. Today, the average household has around 2.5 children, as opposed to the five or six that our horndog ancestors had on average during the 1960s.
If a little thing called "history" is to be believed, this (in conjunction with increased modernization, lower poverty rates, and a rise in education levels across the world) means population sizes will level off fairly soon. You see, back during England's Industrial Revolution, as living conditions improved and mortality rates fell, families that were used to having many children per household no longer needed to, because the ones they had survived childhood now. The abundance of unexpectedly non-dead kids led to a surge in population which took almost a century to correct itself, but that process is happening much faster in today's newly developed countries. This is why your parents seemed to have 27 aunts and uncles, while you have like three. According to UN projections, the Earth is expected to reach around 10 or 11 billion people in the next hundred years, then sorta cool it with the people-making.
What's that, you say? Earth is already disastrously overpopulated? Well, as population has increased, worldwide poverty has dropped just as fast. Hell, you could make the argument that slowing population growth causes just as many problems. The things you see as symptoms of overpopulation on the news (famine, refugees, mass poverty, etc.) are always localized -- the results of civil wars, dictators, or natural disasters fucking up specific areas. Worldwide, the data so far has been very clear: More people equals a higher standard of living. We've even increased our per-capita food production, quashing the idea that there's some set finite amount of food or resources that will run out as the population increases.
Hollywood has a tendency to grossly oversimplify problems, and boiling down complex political and systematic breakdowns to "Too many people" is a rather dumb and cruel way to look at it. Particularly when nobody sitting in the audience sees themselves as part of the excess population.
Even Trying To Create A "One-World Government" Would Lead To Endless Squabbling
Most futuristic franchises that aren't set in total nightmare scenarios take it for granted that the first thing humanity will ditch in the world of tomorrow is the concept of borders. There's Star Trek's United Earth, which is but one member of the United Federation of Planets Where Kirk Has Orgasmed (they usually omit the last five words).
Apparently, United bounces back from the "passenger-dragging" controversy and goes on to rule the galaxy.
There's Babylon 5's Earth Alliance, which has a single president elected by the whole world (the average polling place line must be the size of Honduras).
This looks like the UN logo, Superman's emblem, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. eagle all took turns fucking a tangerine.
Futurama features the United States of Earth, because even this wacky cartoon thinks that not having some sort of unified government by the year 3000 would be unrealistic.
There are many more examples. Somehow, once we figure out how to travel to other inhabited planets, every Earth nation will manage to put aside their constant bickering to come together and form a homogeneous government. How likely is this to happen?
Well, here's a little mental exercise: Try to imagine how long it would take for everyone to agree on just the flag. Guam would probably want to keep a palm tree in there, Mozambique wouldn't let go of their hoe, and you be the one to tell Saudi Arabia they can't have a machete. The result would look like a middle-schooler's sticker collage, assuming we even settle on something before the heat death of the Universe.
OK, now picture the same process, but for every little thing leading up to something even vaguely resembling a unified government. If anything, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction, as evidenced by Brexit and the shit-ton of active separatist movements around the world. Catalonia has been inching away from Spain and hoping it doesn't notice, Iraqi Kurdistan is trying to pry the "Iraqi" part out of its name, "Calexit" is a word people are somehow saying out loud today, etc.
But wait, wouldn't encountering aliens make us band together, especially if they're dicks? Let's say that happens. Let's say we come across a threat so dire that it makes rival nations put aside their differences and fight as one. How long would that harmony last? Based on the last time something like that did happen (hint: it involved a certain disgruntled art school applicant), not very long.
Cloning Won't Spawn Human Organ Banks And Clone Armies -- If Anything, It'll Make Ethical Choices Easier
Cloning is rarely a good thing in movies. Clones are almost always evil, or slaves, or pointlessly Boba-Fett-looking. According to movies like Moon or Oblivion, our main use for cloning in the future will be playing mind games on some poor bastard as a way to get cheap labor.
Or some freaky-ass porn.
However, these movies almost universally get cloning wrong. First, when scientists refer to "cloning," they're almost never talking about cloning a living, breathing person. That "Dolly the Sheep" level of replication would be insanely complicated for a human being, and there's essentially no way to turn a profit off of it. And that's a good thing, because it means that instead of focusing on cloning an army of Tom Cruises or tampering with DNA to create super soldiers, researchers are instead looking into more practical applications, like eliminating waiting times for organ donation.
Now, some movies do explore the ethical implications of cloning for medical purposes, like Never Let Me Go, The Island, or That Movie The Island Shamelessly Ripped Off. In these films, clones are grown specifically as a way to farm spare organs, to be collected once they're ripe enough.
The thing is, we don't have to have living, breathing humans to harvest organs from. Researchers have figured out how to reverse-engineer stem cells to grow new organs and tissue for patients, which would deal a huge blow to the predatory and illegal black market organ trade. Some companies are even using cloning tech to make edible meat without cutting open a live animal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting a little less cruelty in our sandwiches.
Films portray cloning as this weird futuristic dilemma wherein we're slaughtering clones for organ harvesting and war, when in reality, cloning technology has the potential to alleviate ethical problems. But where's the drama in that?
Instead Of Turning Into Brutal Death Games, Sports Are Becoming Less Violent
It's a commonly accepted rule in the film industry that if your movie includes futuristic sports and you don't show a dude getting decapitated in some over-the-top way, you've failed your audience. Because that's where we're headed, right? From Rollerball to Death Race 2000 to The Running Man to The Hunger Games, the future of entertainment is clear: Bloodthirsty audiences will keep craving more and more violence, until eventually the most popular sport in the world will be people literally killing each other on screen for our amusement.
The NFL in, like, three years.
We're sorry to burst your bubble, decapitation fans, but this idea couldn't be more backwards from the real-life trend in sports. Within a couple of decades, the NFL has gone from reluctantly admitting that smacking players in the head all the time might lead to some mild discomfort to paying out a billion dollars in concussion settlements. As public awareness of the issue grows, the rules of football have changed to protect the players' physical well-being (and the NFL's pockets). Not coincidentally, youth football participation has declined over the past couple years, and violence-cheering segments like ESPN's "Jacked Up" have been mercifully phased out.
This is from 2009, but already feels like watching a video from gladiator times.
The same is happening in other sports. Early basketball games were basically street brawls where everyone was wearing shorts. Even hockey is getting less violent. There used to be an average of 1.3 fights per game in the NHL's bloody late '80s heyday, but thanks to rule changes and fewer goons, that number's dropped to just 0.34 fights per game this past season. It's like a whole other sport, with far fewer flying teeth.
Some of you might argue back with three little letters: MMA. Sure, more and more people like watching sinewy tattooed people KO'ing each other with kicks to the temple, but the UFC has added tons of new safety regulations over the years. The point is, even this transparently brutal sport is taking every possible step to stay as relatively safe as hand-to-hand (or foot-to-temple) combat could possibly be. They're not adding POISON-TIPPED GLOVES and FLAMING SPIKE PITS and advertising how violently the game's biggest star got de-limbed in the last pay-per-view event.
Only one of these people looks like an '80s movie villain.
As we learn more about the dangers of repeated head trauma, both viewers and participants are getting increasingly turned off by violence in sports. Parents are less likely to let their kids play them, and the organizations themselves are taking huge steps to make themselves safer for legal, financial, and entertainment reasons. To put it another way: WHO THE FUCK IS LETTING THEIR KIDS PLAY ROLLERBALL?
It's Not Creepy Humanoid Robots Replacing Us; It's Boring, Everyday Machines That Make Work Easier
One of the subtle ways in which skilled filmmakers let us know their movies are set in the future is when you see a robot sweeping the street or unclogging a toilet or something. According to the sci-fi genre, we're about to enter an age in which every other job is performed by chunks of machinery shaped like humans (or at the very least, computers with sassy human voices). We'll have humanoid-robot maids, humanoid-robot guards, humanoid-robot detectives who don't know they're humanoid-robot detectives chasing other runaway humanoid-robots, and so on.
According to Westworld, even the important job of cowboy-themed male stripper will be taken over by the machines.
Well, in non-sci-fi current-day reality, machines already are "taking over" -- it's just that the process is way too banal to portray onscreen in any interesting or meaningfully visual way. Jobs aren't being lost because RoboCop is striding in, nailing bullseyes, and putting 12 fleshy cops out of work; they're being lost because a bunch of software and hardware can do a trillion calculations instantly and the manual labor of countless humans for a minuscule percentage of the cost or hassle.
Think of it this way: Hollywood's vision of an "automated" farm would be a bunch of C-3PO's standing in the fields picking corn. The reality is a guy driving a big green combine harvester. He doesn't see it as "automation," he sees it as "This tool that makes the job so easy that one guy can do it." The mining, manufacturing, and agriculture industries have been heading down that path for decades.
Likewise, the five million Americans who drive people and/or cargo for a living are sure to take a hit when self-driving vehicles become the norm, and it sure as hell won't look like this:
Although Arnold might if they keep making Terminator movies.
And this isn't even scratching the surface of how Amazon has helped destroy retail, or how self-serve kiosks could wipe away fast food jobs. These aren't sentient replicants, and there's no moral dilemma about "enslaving" them; they're mundane, impersonal software and interfaces that make things simpler for the customer. But who's gonna watch a movie about automated Long John Silver's order screens overtaking humanity? Or more accurately, out-of-work humans dramatically beating the shit out of self-driving Ubers? Actually, of course we'd watch that. Bad example. But you get the idea.
Anyway, this leads us to our next point ...
A Real "Machine Uprising" Wouldn't Come From Genius Self-Aware Artificial Intelligence, But Dumbass Algorithms
For decades, pop culture has been warning us about the day when machines finally have enough of our bullshit and wipe us out. Usually, this happens when some advanced computer system becomes self-aware and, in its flawless logic, decides a world full of Terminators would be better (which, OK, fair enough). Bonus points if a glowing red computer eye with a real catty attitude is involved.
The lesson: Always give your computer two eyes, or they'll resent you.
In real life, though, if we're leaving ourselves susceptible to any "AI attacks," they're not gonna come in the form of genius supercomputers with the brainpower of 5,000 Stephen Hawkings -- not in the immediate future, anyway. Nope, it would be a whole lot dumber than that. Like, "Facebook ad trying to sell you an eBay/Amazon product you just bought" dumb.
Take the stock market, for example. More and more, stock trading is being left to algorithms which can automatically author strategies and instantly buy and sell stocks, leaving human traders more free time to snort coke and talk about Phil Collins. These algorithms are equipped with the ability to "evolve" on their own, reshaping themselves based on their performance and results. Pretty smart, right? Yes, so smart that whenever Anne Hathaway is in the news, AI traders have been known to get confused and bump up the stock of Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire-Hathaway.
We've told you about the random British dude who was messing with automated traders and caused a ripple effect which crashed the stock market for a few minutes. In 2012, an American firm lost $440 million in 45 minutes when some glitchy, overly frugal software made it to their server and other programs joined in on the action. In all those cases, an initial error was quickly amplified by the algorithms "learning" from each other. So what if these rapidly evolving programs get so far up their robo-asses that they begin acting under some destructive logic only they understand, wrecking our economy? Not because they're "self-aware" or because they've determined that humanity is TOO SICK TO SURVIVE, but out of pure digital stupidity?
Now consider the fact that algorithms like that are popping up everywhere. They determine you'll probably have Arby's tonight. They figure out where you live without you telling them. They decided your paranoid uncle really, really needed to see this on his Facebook feed:
"But hey, what's the worst that could come out of this?" - someone in a coma since last November
As the world becomes increasingly automated and machines become more capable of going beyond their initial programming, we're gonna grow more and more vulnerable to these robot "revolutions" that are really nothing but software algorithms so impossibly complicated, making decisions at such mind-boggling speed, that no human will fully understand. If this results in the machines stumbling ass-backwards into a future populated by mechanical Arnolds marching down the streets ... honestly, we'll be impressed.
For more ways movies let us down big time, check out The 8 Most Common Sci-Fi Visions of the Future (And Why They'll Never Happen) and 6 Pieces of Sci-Fi Technology That Make No Sense.
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