The new film Her takes place in a not-so-distant future. It follows a man who falls in love with a device made from artificial intelligence. The future director Spike Jonze presents, filled with virtual gaming devices and wireless technology that answers to our every need, would have been bewildering 15 years ago. Now, it seems plausible since it is only a small extension of what exists currently. Futurists and scientists have praised Her as a film that could be a frighteningly accurate glimpse of the world in a decade or two. If operating systems with the capacity to love exist, Jonze’s beguiling sci-fi comedy would even be more prophetic. However, it would hardly be the first sci-fi film to predict the future accurately.
Two of the most eerily prophetic films are adapted from author Philip K. Dick’s works. The dystopian world of 2019 Los Angeles in Blade Runner is much grungier than the city in its current form, but the ethnic diversity presented in Ridley Scott’s film rings true. Los Angeles is currently home to around 4 million Spanish speakers. Meanwhile, the replicants are disposed and replaced every four years. This is similar to the obsolescence of new technologies today. In Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, the Washington D.C. police department uses touch-screen technology and interfaces to figure out criminals’ identities before they commit crimes. When the film came out in 2002, the need to get information immediately, right at our fingertips, had not yet become popular. In addition, Spielberg’s film predicts a future where advertising can target customers using information like their name, age, gender and personal interests. This concept, dubbed “Gladvertising,” is not far off. Active Google users likely recognize when ads confront one’s own interests already.
Jim Carrey also stars in two films that merged the genres of science fiction and comedy: The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The former predicted the rise of reality TV and our intense engagement in the mundane lives of other people. Also, considering how many moments from these shows seem faked or orchestrated to please an audience, The Truman Show has even more satirical value today. Meanwhile, the concept of wiping our memory in the latter could be realized in the near future. In 2009, neuroscientist Dr. Todd C. Sacktor and his team came closer to this reality, creating a drug that can help people forget. The experimental drug goes to parts of the brain that holds memory that can bring about an emotional reaction. Although its goal is to fend off dementia, it can also affect the levels of trauma as well as the likelihood of addiction.
Truman Show writer Andrew Niccol has a knack at telling stories about what the future could be. In Gattaca, he looks at a society that has genetically engineered the human race. In the drama, eugenics and DNA determine both your natural ability and social status. A world that separates “valid” citizens who are more genetically “perfect” from others is not a fantasy anymore. Scientists are at work to alter human genetics, which could help to fend off the risk of disease and give people more enhanced gifts. Today, the richest citizens can use advancements in science to ensure their child is born with certain qualities or as a particular sex.
Another eerily prophetic film is Woody Allen’s Sleeper. Despite being a parody of the genre, some of his (and co-writer Marshall Brickman’s) ideas came true. While the robot butlers and the Orgasmatron are still pending, the film featured voice-recognition technology, cloning and self-driving cars. The instant food and nutrition manuals that keeps the 22nd century characters healthy look very familiar to the guides available today.
Of course, it is hard to mention sci-fi films that were ahead of their time without 2001: A Space Odyssey. Traveling through space, the astronauts connect with their loved ones at home through flat-screen monitors and devices that look uncanny to iPads. In fact, when Apple sued Samsung for parent infringement of its iPad, Samsung argued that Apple had just ripped off the technology from Kubrick’s film. The most memorable technology from 2001, though, is the HAL 9000 computer, which has the power to control the spaceship and speak to the astronauts. Arguably, we have reached a point in history when a computer’s capacity for intelligence outweighs a human. Regardless, the iPhone’s Siri, which the HAL 9000 is often compared to, does not have the capacity to kill others.
Like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the operating system in Her grows through its interaction with humans. They both have an intuition and consciousness that computers do not yet possess. While they are not exact replicas of what exists today, many futurists would tell you that the science fiction is not far from being non-fiction. Moving ahead, it will be cool to see whether more devices or scientific phenomena of the future will remind us of fantastical stories from our past.