In the movie Minority Report, a lot of people (like me) saw predictions of our own technological future. In the special effects of Minority Report, we were shown a logical extension of our present (capitalist) world: what comes next. In that world, we are to be enmeshed and immersed in a system comprising all manner of useful digital machines that will manoeuvre around us with increasing intimacy, always to obtain our attention. Minority Report was all about interfaces, baby.
It’s useful, I think, to bear in mind that vast sums of money must be mobilized to create entertainment like Minority Report, and that there are political priorities behind the funds. Chief among these, I would think, is the straightforward but not always easy priority of profit. A close second, as I see it, is to reproduce the conditions of capitalism, to create the capitalism of the future as a continuation of capitalism today.
It seems obvious to me that movies like Minority Report are (intentionally or not) a kind of market research, and indeed propaganda. We are shown a simulation of the future that’s a clean and clear extrapolation of the (affluent) present. As Tom Cruise moves about in that world, sensors in the landscape are constantly tracking his movements, and according to where he is, systems target him with personalized advertising, based on a rich history of data about him. In that future, essentially unchanged from today, we will be urged–with messaging of increasing sophistication–to consume. To persuade us, digital information machines will learn who we are, what interests and appeals to us, what motivations can be tapped. Everywhere we go, the machines will pitch consumer goods; our place, now and in the future, will be to aspire and work to possess those goods. Whatever else is changing in our world, Minority Report suggests that the essential elements of our economic system will persist.
The other day, I learned about Apple’s iBeacon: a new and–I feel sure–disruptive technology, that’s will bring us closer to the world we saw in Minority Report. iBeacon, simply put, is a technology that will be capable of tracking the indoor location of iPhone users with considerable precision, and will communicate with us according to who we are, where we are, what we might want, and what we may be doing. We’ll have the choice whether or not to opt in and share our data, to be sure, but there will be payoffs, just as there are today for retail points cards, and I daresay most of us will make the trade.
This won’t stop with one vendor’s technology, or with one kind of device. Soon enough, we’ll be wearing Google Glass or something like it, or a smart watch, then (I feel sure) contact lenses with embedded heads-up displays, then implants in our eyes.
From the Washington Post: How iBeacons could change the world forever.