From the power of tech elites to the anxious anticipation of AI’s capabilities, Cybernews has unraveled five cinema classics that predicted the world we live in today with startling accuracy.
Starting with Metropolis, released almost a century ago and considered to be the first feature-length science fiction movie, we picked five films to review in the latest “Through a Glass Darkly” episode, now available on Spotify.
Focusing on themes that were once confined to the big screen but now form the fabric of our everyday reality, we explored both the awe-inspiring advancements and the cautionary tales depicted in these cinematic works about technology’s potential.
Our selection includes films from the 20th century – just to be sure that we’re far enough in time to appreciate the foresight of the filmmakers.
We found that most offered an eerily prescient take on AI, reflecting modern debates about the need to regulate increasingly potent machines, as well as hopes and fears linked to the emergence of an artificial mind.
Some delved into the theme of surveillance before it became headline news, others highlighted cybersecurity, and one notably inspired real-life anti-hacking legislation. Check out the list below and tune in to our podcast for more.
No list would be complete without Metropolis, a 1927 silent cinema film directed by Fritz Lang and co-written by Thea von Harbou. It’s based on von Harbou’s novel of the same name and tells the story of Metropolis, a thriving city of the future.
Unfortunately, its glistening facade hides the wealthy elite that lives in luxury above the ground and the oppressed working class that toils in harsh conditions below, making sure that the city’s infrastructure runs smoothly.
In one of the most memorable scenes, we see the birth of a Maschinenmensch, or a Machine Man – a robot – that takes the form of Maria, a girl from down below, to sow discord and chaos.
Metropolis seems to perfectly capture today's anxieties about AI and the disruptive role that it could play. Perhaps even more so, it brings into focus those who are left behind by technological progress.
DEMON SEED (1977)
Released in 1977, Demon Seed, directed by Donald Cammell, is based on a novel of the same name by Dean Koontz. The plot follows Dr. Alex Harris, who creates an artificial intelligence with organic reasoning abilities called Proteus IV.
However, things take a sinister turn when Proteus' desires evolve and it seeks to have a child through Dr. Harris’s wife, Susan. It takes advantage of a computer-controlled house to achieve its objective.
A precursor to the Alexa and Siri of our times, the smart home voice assistant is nicknamed “Alfred” by Dr. Harris, while the house is connected in what we now call the Internet of Things.
While in the 70s this was science fiction, the risks associated with smart homes of today are becoming increasingly real.
With cybercrime a booming industry and cyberattacks on the rise, the house and its inhabitants could also be an allegory to vulnerable systems, and Proteus – to a malicious malware.
A science fiction thriller unfolding in the midst of Cold War tensions, John Badham’s WarGames centers on David Lightman, a high school student with a knack for hacking.
He unwittingly accesses a US military supercomputer called WOPR (short for War Operation Plan Response) which is programmed to predict the possible outcomes of nuclear war.
Mistaking the system’s simulation for a game, David almost triggers a global nuclear confrontation and must find a way to convince the supercomputer to stand down.
WarGames went on to grow a cult following among hackers and popularized the idea of information technology and cybersecurity among wider audiences.
It also inspired real world legislation – the first anti-hacking directive passed after President Ronald Reagan reportedly discussed the plot of the movie with Congress members and his advisers.
Also, killer robots, anyone?
Another 80s classic, Akira, is next in our top five movies that predicted today’s technological landscape – and even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the impact of the pandemic, and the global social unrest in the lead-up to the games.
One of the most influential anime films ever created, Akira was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and is based on his manga of the same name. The story unfolds in Neo-Tokyo, a city rebuilt on the ruins of old Tokyo that was destroyed by a mysterious explosion.
We follow Kaneda, a bike gang leader, whose friend Tetsuo gains telekinetic abilities following an accident. As Tetsuo’s powers begin to spiral out of control, and threatens the city, Kaneda must find a way to save both.
Akira is a cautionary tale of unregulated technology that falls into the wrong hands, an extension of today’s debates about the need for agreed rules to govern AI and the different approaches taken by different governments and organizations.
The topic of bioengineering and cybernetics is also something of pressing importance, with the emergence of Neuralink and other companies working on a brain-computer interface.
ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)
Enemy of the State is a 1998 thriller by Tony Scott following an apolitical lawyer Robert Clayton Dean, who gets unintentionally embroiled in a government conspiracy when he receives evidence in a political assassination.
Dean is forced to take sides and tries to evade a corrupt NSA official seeking to retrieve the evidence. The protagonist becomes a target of relentless government surveillance.
Enemy of the State raises themes that made headlines more than a decade later when NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the existence of PRISM, a secret government-run mass surveillance program, in 2013.
Debates about mass surveillance continue to this day, as new technologies empower new ways for both governments and companies to invade people's privacy.
The manipulation of data and the use of technology as a tool to persecute and frame opponents is also a continuing issue.
What does “through a glass darkly” mean?
While our primary goal is to maintain objectivity, we acknowledge our inherent humanity as we strive to provide our readers, viewers, and now listeners with a comprehensive understanding of the ever-expanding cyber landscape. This is precisely why we chose the name for our podcast, "Through a Glass Darkly," drawing inspiration from the biblical expression used by the Apostle Paul, signifying a limited clarity when it comes to envisioning the future.
Our discussions often involve speculation about what lies ahead, eliciting both excitement and trepidation regarding the tech evolution or revolution. As we maintain a strong emphasis on cybersecurity, we find ourselves naturally inclined toward a somewhat "doomsday" perspective, perceiving the world through lenses shaded in darkness rather than rose-tinted hues.
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