‘Predicting the Future with Film‘
The last time I spoke about current trends in science fiction film (http://bit.ly/13p1zcU) I noted three reasons why they often suck, and why they shouldn’t. One of the single most important things I noted is that science fiction today touches upon the same topics over and over again. Despite a future completely unwritten, our creative engine seems exhausted by the same trends. It’s hard to say if this is because one is limited to marketing forces. However, for the purpose of this article, I will operate under the assumption that it is a lack of creativity and often a writer/creative team unfamiliar with the science component of science fiction. I am personally drawn to science fiction, because as both a futurist and technophile, I believe we are on the precipice of unbelievable and radical changes in technology. These changes will have far reaching impact and consequences on all of our lives. And unlike many of these post-apocalyptic and dystopian futures depicted in so many of todays science fiction films, I am going to take a more optimistic view in many instances. In my bid to challenge the status quot of the same old sci-fi stories, here are a few ways I think science fiction film can both accurately predict the future, and make an entertaining movie-going experience.
Ever since Nasa officially closed its space exploration operations, private companies like Elon Musk’s Space-X and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have been following in their shoes. The stories of these men alone are movie worthy, but what about the conflicts they present? Its no mystery that private corporations are motivated by profit, which doesn’t always represent the collective goals of society. Not just anyone can afford to finance and build a space-exploration operation, only the super wealthy and savvy. Perhaps land-faring humans versus wealthy planet-colonizing counterparts/rivals? Or more likely, these operations will become more affordable as technology advances, presenting the opportunity for average folks to encounter our solar system like never before, giving way to a whole line of adventures through film.
The adventures one could come up with arising from a new era of space-exploration have not yet been broached, at least not accurately, only theoretically, often leaving earth destroyed. What kinds of issues will we face when we start mining asteroids? What happens if we unknowingly introduce space-born illnesses to a geocentric population? OR what happens as human curiosity takes the lessons learned from Manifest Destiny to the edges of the universe? What happens as we learn to take care of our own planet, or don’t? What sort of industry is likely to result from these ventures and how will they give way to new story-telling and ideas? Will our planet be more like Star Wars (no Earth left) or Star Trek (Earth is healthy)? As we get closer to the reality of frequent space travel, the science fiction which could stem from a radical reality will be diverse and plentiful in terms of possible stories and fascinating adventures. And before space mining corporations and space airlines are fully realized, now is the time to explore these stories.
Following one of the worst recessions in our life time, economists all sought to assign blame and to make sense of why it happened, and why now our recovery is so slow. Of those economists, only two really focused on the technology component of the stagnant recovery. Those two economists are MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They contend that increasing automation is ruling out human labor in the workforce. Combine this with an exponential growth in technology, particularly processing power, and artificial general intelligence, and this scenario is only bound to worsen. They contend that companies have invested more in computer automation and artificial intelligence than they have human labor (c. 2010). Initially this was the case in many blue collar factory jobs, but these economists, along with many leading AI experts, contend that with the advance in technology we will see this happen to many white collar jobs as well. They urge workers now to be prepared for what they call the “race against the machine.” To prepare for a radically alternate, technology-centric economy.
So how will this be covered in film? What questions are going to be explored?
1.) How will humans be working? 2.) Will humans be working? From these two questions comes another set of questions. What sort of political reality arises from these struggles? On the one hand, humans may live in a post-work society, providing new ways of time spent. On the other hand, humans will be forced out of work until they can compensate their skills to the technological reality. They will be hostile towards those with these skills. Rifts will form between those who embrace technology and those who fear it. Political parties may form around such strong opinions, galvanizing support around promoting or rejecting technologies. Perhaps we will have sentient machines, like leading futurists such as Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil suggest. Will these machines adapt to society? How will humans interact with them? Will they oppose or embrace them?
This remains in my opinion one of the most fascinating topics to explore through science fiction film because we are seeing the beginning of it right now. Anyone with or without a job has an opinion on the economy, so lets see some exploration of this issue in science fiction film.
HEALTH & WELLNESS:
Along with the exponential growth in technology comes the merging of health and technology. Biotechnology research is one of the fastest growing fields in the world today. And in fact, if you want to win the “race against the machine” its probably a field worth considering. Going back to Ray Kurzweil for a moment, he argues we will see immortality within our life time by way of merging man and machine. If not that, then at the very least, leading experts foresee a major increase in life expectancy due to the merging of technology and biology. We have seen researchers artificially create major organs, code DNA and now the Obama administration wants to fund research to map the human brain. Researchers hope that by understanding how the brain works we can unlock the mysteries of diseases and other mortal human ailments.
This question is already being explored in film. TRANSCENDENCE, starring Johnny Depp, just began filming out in LA. The film deals with the consequences of technological immortality and a scientists (Ray Kurzweil?) pursuit of it. Prior to learning about this film, I wrote my first script on the same issue. Its a fascinating one, and despite the fact my script sucked, I asked a lot of questions I still want to explore as a writer and a futurist. How do we define the course of a life if it never ends? What will pharmaceutical industries do if their profitable pills become pointless? How will politicians deal with the ever changing landscape of health-care in the era of Obamacare? Will these procedures be available to average folks? Or will the ever increasing cost of health-care doom these innovative procedures to obscurity until price curves normalize?
Whether or not you are willing to go as far as Kurzweil is one thing. But there is no doubt we will see as a result of this research a radically different health-care system. Our lives will see a new golden age of medicine. & I don’t want to see TRANSCENDENCE the only film to deal with this issue. I want to challenge TRANSCENDENCE and I also want to supplement TRANSCENDENCE. This is an absolutely fascinating field. & I am excited to see it on the big screen.
SECURITY & COUNTER-TERRORISM:
Ever since the Patriot Act expanded the US governments access to unwarranted surveillance, the corresponding increases in surveillance technology have brought about major questions about security and counter-terrorism. Our Constitutional rights include the right to privacy in addition to search and seizure laws regarding what can and cannot be submitted to court. With new technology comes the question of what is and what is not permissible. What information gathered by technology can be used against you in court? What would come of our society if drones could warrantlessly survey you, or worse take action against suspected terrorists with possible collateral damage? What happens if technology got the wrong guy?
My next script that I have begun to outline deals directly with drone surveillance in a 24-style plot. Of course since my ideas are not copyrightable, I won’t elaborate. But this is another area where science fiction writers can have an absolute Orwellian field day. What are the consequences of technological surveillance? What will our future look like? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? There are SO MANY avenues and conflicts you could address with this in mind. I hope to start seeing more politically savvy science fiction, its my absolute favorite!
Keeping in mind the points I made in my original post on science fiction, all these questions have to be answered with the following rules in mind: 1. Make us care about character involved. 2. Make sure the idea you have to answer your questions isn’t just a “good idea.” Make sure it can translate well into film. 3. Make sure your way of approaching these questions is done with science of science fiction in mind. Don’t reuse the same templates for previous ideas. Say something new. The future depends on it.
I hope that these questions will be answered before the conflicts arise. The best way to get a culture considering the consequences/philosophy of an action is to make the action common knowledge before it happens. Film is a great way to make an issue known. I remain an optimist on the future. I embrace the future for everything wonderful it holds. But like anything in life, it will not be without conflict. All great films are centered around great conflict and a great conflicted character navigating it. As a writer just starting out, I will make it a goal to make answering these questions the center of my writing career. I hope other writers will be inspired to do the same. Its time to make science fiction great again – and that’s by predicting the future through film.