Film is the cornerstone of modern society, allowing us to conceptualize unique ideas yet to be realized. Movies like Back to the Future predicted the advent of virtual reality, and films such as Ex Machina warned us of the dangers of AI. But what other movies have predicted 21st-century technologies?
Ex Machina (2014)
The 2014 Sci-Fi psychological thriller Ex Machina has become more relevant as we move closer to artificial general intelligence (or even superintelligence).
The film commences with protagonist Caleb Smith, a programmer at Blue Book, a search engine company, who wins an office prize involving a visit to CEO Nathan Bateman (unrelated to Patrick Bateman of the thriller American Psycho) in his opulent and isolated home.
Bateman reveals a humanoid robot named Ava, powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Smith’s job is to assess whether Ava, the robot, is capable of thought and consciousness.
Smith and Ava begin having a semi-romantic relationship as Smith grows closer to Bateman’s humanoid project.
Bateman reveals that he will kill Ava’s personality once he has concluded his assessment, and the two hatch a plan to leave the remote location together.
We soon discover that Ava has manipulated Smith, as Smith has been specifically selected based on his ‘emotional profile.’ Thus proving that the humanoid female antagonist possesses sentience.
The film ends with Ava and Kyoko, Bateman’s android servant, murdering the CEO, and Ava escaping into the modern world, leaving Smith to perish in a locked room.
We are nowhere near humanoid robots gaining consciousness and killing their creators. However, we do appear closer to reaching a level of superintelligence.
Fiction meets reality
Ex Machina warns us of the unstoppable powers of AI and what could happen if AI becomes more intelligent.
Although this may seem far from our reality, OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT, plan to develop a more robust, sophisticated animal.
OpenAI has revealed its ‘Superalignment,’ group used to “control AI systems much smarter than us.”
According to OpenAI, superintelligence will be the most impactful technology humanity has ever invented.”
This technology may bring about bountiful opportunities but “could also be very dangerous, and could lead to the disempowerment of humanity or even human extinction.”
While it feels like a fable, it may become a reality as close as this decade.
Perhaps we haven’t seen humanoid robots destroy their creators. However, we have observed the conception of real-life humanoid robots like Sophia.
She has become one of the most infamous ‘people’ created by Hanson Robotics. Sophia is said to personify “our dreams of the future of AI” as she is a character “depicting the future of AI and robotics.”
Sophia created waves in 2016, and since then, she has been made the world’s first robot citizen and the first robot Innovation Ambassador for the United Nations.
This humanoid robot looks eerily like the antagonist in Ex Machina, modeled after Audrey Hepburn, ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, and Amanda Hanson, the creator's wife.
Whether or not the machine will rage against humanity is unknown, but with OpenAI's chilling statement and the conception of technology like Sophia, it’s not totally out of the question.
In the 2022 U.S. Sci-Fi horror film M3GAN (Megan), we see yet another humanoid robot conceived by a robotics expert covertly creating a Model 3 Generative Andriod or M3GAN.
This AI-powered toy is set to be the ultimate companion for children but turns very sour when M3GAN’s mission to protect the protagonist’s niece goes too far.
To cut a long story short, M3GAN transforms into the ultimate killing machine, murdering anything the AI perceives as a threat to the young girl.
The doll is eventually destroyed in a brawl between the maker and the machine.
This notion of an android caretaker is not at all fictional. It is a reality for many countries across the globe.
We see AI in nursing homes in Japan that have employed robots to take care of the elderly.
Robear has been designed to help care for elderly individuals by assisting them in standing up or transporting them from one place to another, say from a bed to a wheelchair.
But will these robots create more chaos in the coming years? The answer is yes, as the MIT Technology Review reported that certain robots were “cumbersome and time-consuming to wheel from room to room – cutting into the time they had to interact with residents.
Although they aren’t killing people, these robots end up causing more chaos than they’re worth.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
The Japanese neo-noir cyberpunk thriller Ghost in the Shell features various technologies slowly making their way into modern society.
We’re confronted with a 2029 Japan, where cybernetic technology and biology seemingly intertwine.
In the movie, the human body is augmented and replaced with cybernetic parts. This is evidenced by the film's protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg public security agent on a mission to hunt the Puppet Master, a hacker/ghost.
The narrative posits philosophical themes centered around self-identifying in a technologically advanced society.
Augmenting the shell
With the conception of Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a brain-computer interface that allows you to control a computer or mobile device from anywhere, this notion of cyborg people might not be too far from reality.
The first clinical trial is open for recruitment, which could help quadriplegic individuals control external devices with their thoughts.
According to the Neuralink website, the study “involves placing a small, cosmetically invisible implant in a part of the brain that plans movements. The device is designed to interpret a person’s neural activity, so they can operate a computer or smartphone simply intending to move – no wires or physical movement is required.”
There are even talks of people cutting off limbs to obtain cybernetic qualities – which takes bodily augmentation to the next level.
On a less invasive level, we have seen the advent of artificial intelligence products such as the Humane AI pin, which allows you to control devices with gestures.
The film also raises concerns over biohacking, which could be possible over the coming years with brain-computer interfaces.
While we’re far off from cyborg, part human, part tech individuals roaming the streets, with Musk’s Neuralink, we are almost promised cybernetic organisms in the near future.
Blade Runner (1982)
This slow but striking 1982 film sees Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, return to a life of replicant hunting.
Replicants are humanoid robots indistinguishable from their human counterparts created by the Tyrell Corporation.
These beings were created to function as enslaved people but fought back against the system in which they were oppressed.
Deckard’s job is to hunt four replicants that have escaped from the ‘off-world colonies’ where they have been exiled.
In the process, Ford’s character becomes entangled with a replicant called Rachel, created by the Tyrell Corporation.
Enter the chatbot
Blade Runner predicted the creation of intelligent robots capable of interacting in a way indistinguishable from humans.
Enter ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot that produces human-like responses.
ChatGPT may not look as convincing as some of the humanoid assailants that appear within the film. However, the text generated from the AI is uncannily similar to human text (with some minor telltale signs.)
Another insight Blade Runner predicted is the romantic relationships between humans and androids.
Human and android romance is not too far-fetched in the modern world. We have witnessed AI dating apps that convincingly mimic humans and allow you to ‘date’ them online.
Why bother with apps like Tinder and Hinge when you could happily engage in a relationship with AI? Although it’s not as intimate as Deckard’s relationship with Rachel, we can still enter a simulated relationship with an AI chatbot in 2023.
While many of us keep AI at arm's length, intimate relationships with AI could cause Blade Runner-like problems as we divulge more personal information to our AI suiter.
Back to the Future Trilogy
This classic 80s film trilogy observes small-town teen Marty McFly, played by Michael J Fox, traveling through time in a desperate attempt to get his parents together; otherwise, McFly will never be born.
McFly meets eccentric scientist Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, and they devise a plan to travel back to the 50s in a modified automobile.
The Back to the Future franchise plays on the butterfly effect, where playing with time travel can lead to your ultimate demise if you’re not careful.
The trilogy features various instances where the protagonists must travel back in time to thwart incidents that could threaten their livelihoods.
This movie franchise predicted various technologies that have slowly entered modern-day life.
Back to the Future predicted the widespread use of video communication, what we know as FaceTime or Skype.
While video communication wasn’t the only technology Back to the Future predicted, the film seemed to predict the emergence of smart homes and the Internet of Things.
In Back to the Future 2, we see houses with voice-activated lights, a novel invention for the period.
Now we have voice-activated servants like Amazon Alexa that can be connected to our home by the Internet of Things.
Another nifty invention featured within the film is smart glasses that allow you to take video calls and stream shows.
Companies like Meta have collaborated with Ray-Ban to create smart glasses that allow you to live stream directly to Facebook or Instagram, listen to music, and use voice commands to call, message, and capture your activity.
The film also predicted the widespread use of biometric technology, allowing users to identify themselves and make payments.
The Back to the Future trilogy is one of those prophetic franchises that can’t be beaten. Although dated, the movie masterfully captured some future technologies that have become a reality.
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