5 Dystopian Movie Technologies That Would Improve Our World
When movies want to show a dystopia, they show sterile techno-prisons where people dream of escaping cruel progress to the idyllic green countryside. Because death-races between plague and starvation were apparently humanity's high point.
"Whichever of you survives to puberty will work here for 20 years. We only need one seat."
The problem is conflating multipurpose technology with a single sinister application. In the Matrix trilogy, machines used incredible virtual worlds to keep people safe from a poisoned sky and a mass-murdering terrorist organization. That's not enslavement, that's the first law of robotics.
"The bad guys want me to stay indoors playing video games all day, but the good guys want me to work in hell's landfill?
Are you sure you have that the right way around?"
But while movies might get it wrong, the real world's dystopian technology is even more depressing, which is why I've reversed the polarity of five more dystopic technologies that would make the world a better place.
The bar code tattoo is how movies announce that humans are slaves in machine-readable form. It's the painful calling card of an unfeeling future, a mark of servitude worn by an entire civilization.
And if you ever break up with the civilization, the only possible coverup tattoo is a zeal of zebras.
Bar coding is decried as the ultimate dehumanization by people who have never moved country, applied for a visa, or filled out taxes where every number isn't already zero. Filling out 5,000 forms full of information you've already given an unfeeling bureaucracy because you've got no choice is dehumanizing. Bar codes are convenient.
"Oh yeah, I feel free as diarrheic shit right now."
Transcribing numbers from one form the government gave you to another they gave you is how you subconsciously learn you're less important than a photocopier. We're already living in a matrix of inescapable numbers. If you think a lack of a bar code keeps you free, try not paying your taxes. See how long the lack of narrow lines helps you. Social security, passport, bank account ... we're not even officially born without a few alphanumeric strings, and as someone living in a world made of numerals, I can't wait for my bar code. If it means an end to the endless bullshit of application forms, I'll let them put the code on my forehead so that I can head-butt my way out of my papier mache prison.
It's also an end to the absolute bullshit of being told you can't have your own flight or vote because you didn't bring arbitrary enough pieces of paper. Can you prove you're you? YES. You are you! Especially when DNA becomes our bar code, which is absolutely happening whether you want it or not. And since big business is going to take the advantages anyway, you might as well. Which brings us to ...
Total Genetic Control (GATTACA)
GATTACA is set in a future where we have total control of the human genome and can design perfect people, replacing the current strategy of rolling 3 million tiny four-sided dice in a puddle of spunk and menstrual fluid and hoping everything works out. It's presented as a cruel caste society where the subtly named Vincent Freeman must fight for his dream, battling bigoted police and institutional prejudice, while never tackling the real master villains: his parents.
"You're too late! We did it nine months ago!"
Vincent's parents live in a time where genetic perfection isn't just possible, it's so standard that you get a genetic printout before they've even toweled off the amniotic fluid. And his parents still decided to literally fuck Vincent's life right from the start. That's the conception equivalent of sending him to a creationist school: destroying the biological basis of his future scientific career based on their obsolete beliefs. It's anti-vaxxing idiocy installed at the cellular level, with the same results: horribly preventable diseases and death.
Archive photo of Jenny McCarthy. Back when she was against disease.
They decide that their ignorance is more important than their child's life, and he spends that life paying for it. But their selfishness apparently runs in the family. His great "victory" was achieving his dream, getting onto the elite crew of a long-duration space mission despite suffering from a defect that means he's already overdue to die of a heart attack. I repeat: He took a vital place on a small spaceflight crew where everyone's survival depends on everyone else despite knowing he's going to die of a heart attack. Even if he doesn't kill everyone by convulsing over vital controls, he's going to ruin the lives of at least nine innocent people just so he can have his heart explode in space. Because it's not like space travel puts unusual strain on already weakened cardiac vessels or anything.
"My God, this man is a human Apollo 13."
Genetic engineering will eliminate some of the most horrific things that can happen to anyone, ever, and make everyone better at everything as a mere side effect. Anyone campaigning against genetic engineering is saying, "I was lucky enough not to get cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, or any one of a hundred other unthinkable horrors, and that's 100 percent of the humans I care about! Yay!"
Prozium is the emotion-suppressing drug that allows future police to learn otherwise unbearably cool double-gun poses without breaking down in laughter of joy at how awesome they look.
The noble art of Chow Yun Fu.
The drug is so temporary that they had to build their entire society around reminders to take more. It wears off faster than tequila (with the exact opposite effects on emotional stability). So you've got a short-term pill with no side effects that makes you immune to stress and fear. If I invented that, exams alone would make me every billion dollars.
"It turns out that answering rigid logical questions is easier without stress!"
Emergency room staff, bomb disposal technicians, airline pilots, the entire legal and government systems -- they'd all do far better jobs with less damaging emotional strain. Imagine a government motivated by logic instead of hatred, greed, and fear. Reduce the dosage a little and everyone can get through an eight-hour shift without feeling a single thing and then wake up to begin living when they get off at 5 (which was my exact work experience as an office temp paying my way through college).
I measured my earnings in Fosters-per-hour.
There's no disconnect between activities while Proziumed and emotional. John Preston gets to cruise through the grinding years of gun training as an emotionless robot, then kick sweet ass with the results and every single emotion he has. A properly Proziumed population would get to enjoy mastery in all activities by avoiding the frustration and boredom in training. Prozium won't eliminate all the terrible problems in the world, but it would stop them from feeling terrible and let us get on with solving them.
Big Brother is the ultimate fantasy of authoritarianism, a world where the governments come up with a plan to eternally dominate the populace at the expense of all privacy and joy. "Fantasy" is the part where a government was competent enough to complete even one of its promised plans.
"Yes, I was elected on the sole platform of preventing the Earth from suddenly tilting at a 30-degree angle, but apart from that ..."
The problem isn't total surveillance; it's one-way surveillance manned by ineffective idiots. The U.K. has one security camera per 11 people. We could save our own tax money by forming the entire nation into soccer teams and letting the government referee. But those cameras aren't watched by anyone remotely interested in real crime or capable of doing anything about it. With 6 million view screens, there shouldn't be a theft or murder in the land. Before someone can even eye a victim counting money in a dark alley, expert analysts should be able to identify their hair stylist and cancel their upcoming appointments for three to five years.
Instead, our current definition of "elite" is "awake and not masturbating to the screens."
Instead, these cameras are used to record otherwise law-abiding people protesting the security cameras and the fact that they've been bought instead of schoolbooks. The U.K. government is cutting education and mental health care but putting up more security cameras. You'd swear it was a plot to turn Britain into the world's worst reality show.
You can't even pay most people to watch it.
Truly total surveillance includes sousveillance, the ability to watch the watchers right back, and that's already happening. Camera phones, Internet leaks, whatever the wearable sequel to Google Glass' Betamax is -- they'll all help smash through that one-way mirror like an arrested main character with a chair. We've talked about how police violence is fought when it's instantly uploaded and prosecuted. When government ministers face the same level of financial scrutiny as those applying for unemployment support, things will be very different. And if you don't think they'll be prosecuted, then you want to tackle that problem with the legal system, not information availability. Leaving our idea of justice broken and just hoping it's blind enough not to notice you is not a long-term strategy, because this is another one that's happening anyway.
There will also be benefits for people we actually like. The elderly or infirm, which will include us, will get to keep the dignity of living at home, knowing that any problems will be instantly detected and responded to by loved ones or care professionals.
Adjustable Life Clock (Logan's Run, In Time)
In Logan's Run, everyone dies at age 30. A crystal embedded in their hand tells them how little time they have left to live (unlike most smartphone apps, which desperately distract them while making the problem worse). Society's master computer accelerates Logan's clock to near death and says "Get on with the second half of our movie title." In Time features life clocks where you have to earn every day after 25. Obviously we don't want either of those.
The liberal arts would go extinct.
It's a horrible reduction of the most technologically equipped life possible to the caveperson era of "Work right now or you'll die." And you can talk about the crushingly real problem of overpopulation all you like, but you'll never succeed with any plan where step one is "kill all the grandparents."
Although if we get them houses on the coast, climate change will get them for us.
We don't want to limit the clock; all we need is that speed-control function. Everyone has their life expectancy ticking down on their wrist second by second toward death, which shouldn't be too bad because that's exactly what watches have been doing all this time, and it continues at one second per second. But there are "hot plates" that accelerate them. These plates will be at any counter you have to queue for. Airline check in, post offices, fast food counters: The instant you get to the counter, your lifeclock rate is multiplied by the number of people behind you, so you'd better have your goddamned order ready.
"Omigosh, I was in the queue for like 15 minutes and totally never noticed those little squiggly marks! O...K, let's see,
A is for Apple, B is for, um ..."
It's multiplied by the queue size because that's how many lives they're wasting with their contempt for the existence of other people. Then, in the final society-saving step, all the lost time goes to the counter staff. Meaning that the face of every industry will be the greatest possible person doing their best at the most desired job in the world. And that's the only way to reverse your clock, so that even the richest people have to work as counter staff, forcing them to remain connected to regular humanity, which is something we should be instituting anyway.
Technologies can't be inherently good or evil. Devices can, because they're built for an express purpose. If you hypothetically built something with the sole function of killing 20 other human beings per minute, then that would be unquestionably evil. But technologies expand the range of the entire human race, improving ourselves to achieve more and learn faster, because technology is what we invented when we decided evolution was moving too slowly.
Enjoy more movie overanalysis with The Manliest Names In Movie History.
Read about more misuse of movie technology with Resident Evil's Umbrella: The Most Wasteful Movie Corporation Ever, or see how we're kicking reality's ass with 4 Plasma Technologies That Put Video Game Weapons to Shame.