"I Don't Mind A Parasite. I Object To A Cut-Rate One."
I've been a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember. As a child growing up in the 1950s, I - along with millions of others - was fascinated by the new entertainment and information medium that was coming into our homes: television. I was just as fascinated by the initial attempts at science fiction programming by the networks. There were exciting shows called "Science Fiction Theater," and "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," as well as fast-paced and hi-tech (for back then) Saturday morning serials detailing the exploits of such sci-fi heroes as "Flash Gordon" and "Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe."
There's been a whole lot more sci-fi in the media since the days of Tom Corbett, but the underlying premise of it all used to be that what was being depicted on the screen was simply FICTION. That is, it was subject matter based on "an imaginative creation or pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented." Nevertheless, the question that invariably crossed the mind of the viewer was: "Could any of this actually come true?"
Anyone who has seen the movies “Gattaca” or “Minority Report” and has read the news lately knows that the answer to this question is a resounding YES. Echoing the premise of “Gattaca,” a telegraph.co.uk article titled: “Unborn babies could be tested for 3,500 genetic faults” reports that:
“A team has been able to predict the whole genetic code of a fetus by taking a blood sample from a woman who was 18 weeks pregnant, and a swab of saliva from the father. They believe that, in time, the test will become widely available, enabling doctors to screen unborn babies for some 3,500 genetic disorders.”
It’s not too difficult to imagine the results of this testing being used as a basis for abortions (as cited in The Telegraph article), and in decisions involving employability and insurability. In "Gattaca" (1997), the possibilities were taken to an even higher level, as an entire society was based upon genetic manipulation in order to create human beings who were as close to perfection as science could make them. Any “accidental” or “natural” births not resulting from genetic pre-programming were categorized as “invalids” (emphasis on the second syllable), and were subjected to extreme social and workplace discrimination throughout their lives. The example in the film was that only genetically designed humans could qualify for trips to the stars; invalids were best suited to be janitors.
In “Minority Report” (2002), a criminal justice system called “Precrime” is in its final testing phase. Precrime uses clairvoyants (“Precogs”) to identify and apprehend prospective criminals BEFORE they can commit their dastardly deeds. In the movie, people were imprisoned for murders they would have committed (as determined by the Precogs), had they not been precluded from committing them by the Precrime apparatus. This system has replaced the traditional process of discovering a murder and its perpetrator(s) after the fact, and has the highly desirable benefit of preventing the death of any victims.
It appears now that life eerily imitates art, as the city of San Francisco, California, is about to install hundreds of “pre-crime surveillance cameras” in its subway system “that will analyze “suspicious behavior” and alert guards to potential criminal or terrorist activity – before any crime has been committed.”
The article goes on to say:
“The cameras are programmed with a list of behaviors considered “normal.” Anything that deviates from usual activity is classified as suspicious and guards are immediately alerted via text message or a phone call. Equipped with the ability to track up to 150 suspects at a time, the cameras build up a “memory” of suspicious behavior to determine what constitutes potential criminal activity."
"Law enforcement agencies in Washington D.C. are already using a software database developed by the University of Pennsylvania that they claim can predict when crimes will be committed and who will commit them, before they actually happen."
"The technology sifts through a database of thousands of crimes and uses algorithms and different variables, such as geographical location, criminal records and ages of previous offenders, to come up with predictions of where, when, and how a crime could possibly be committed and by who."
"The program operates without any direct evidence that a crime will be committed, it simply takes datasets and computes (the) possibilities.”
From this article, it’s not too difficult to see the similarities between what is happening in San Francisco (and in "pre-crime" software development) and the plot of “Minority Report.” All of the above begs the questions: Will our technological “progress” actually result in the betterment of society and an improvement in our quality of life? Or will all of these "scientific achievements" lead ultimately to nightmare scenarios like those depicted in “Gattaca” and “Minority Report?”
These questions are certainly not easy to answer, but one thing is for sure: science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact. And more and more as we live our daily lives, we can see that the future is now.
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