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Categories: Features

Avery T. Phillips talks about how our portrayal of tech on the silver screen has evolved over the past few decades and how it’s shaped our view of our lives.

Science fiction has been a beloved genre for decades, but it doesn’t always age well. For instance, when the original Blade Runner hit the box office in 1982, audiences were blown away by the future world inhabited by Rick Deckard and company. But audiences of today feel that Blade Runner’s futuristic society is more cheesy than cool and not at all realistic.

And as technology has shaped the real world, the lines between science fiction and reality have become more blurred. No longer is the idea of an automated computer program that can think for itself outside the realm of possibility. Wars in space seem entirely plausible, and having interactive conversations with computers is part if our daily life.

Some of the best movies about the internet merge sci-fi with reality and leave audiences asking powerful questions, such as:

  • Have we gone too far?
  • How close are we to achieving true AI technology?
  • Can computers come to life?
  • Are we on the brink of an apocalyptic event?

These concepts are explored in a variety of films, essentially catapulting technology into the best supporting actor category. Here are some of the most glaring and thought-provoking examples of technology on the silver screen.

Automation: How Humanity and A.I. Intertwine

Artificial intelligence is an exciting possibility that has already altered a variety of industries, such as transportation and banking, leading some to refer to automation as the “fourth industrial revolution.” Whether or not you agree, it’s hard to deny the possibilities of A.I., and the subject is a favorite among modern filmmakers.

The 1980s saw a slew of films that explored the concepts of autonomy and A.I., such as The Terminator, Tron, and Aliens. But the most glaring (and frightening) character example in recent years is Ava, the A.I. at the center of 2016’s Ex Machina. Ava, one of our top 10 A.I.s on film, passes the Turing Test by using manipulation, her sexuality, and determination to get what she wants more than anything: Freedom.

Surveillance: The IoT’s Rise to Power

The modern digital age has essentially brought about the end of personal privacy. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), every aspect of our existence is under surveillance. Some items that track our movement or bodily functions, such as smart watches and GPS tracking in our vehicles, seem innocuous on the surface, but filmmakers are happy to provide the “what-ifs” that co-exist alongside IoT technology.

And, believe it or not, a malfunctioning smart home first garnered small screen notoriety in 1999, in the made-for-TV movie Smart House. In April 2018, Business Insider dissected the technology of Smart House and found that many of the concepts are spot-on, including voice recognition of the humans in the home and an A.I. assistant that, over time, learns about its owners and makes suggestions based on that knowledge.

Cybersecurity: Are We Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

Whether it’s the hacking of elections, the weaponization of A.I., or huge data breaches, the possibility of a cyber attack is a grim reality in our digitized world. The rise of cyber security threats has spawned an increase in data protection practices in myriad industries, from small businesses adding cybersecurity clauses to their insurance policies to public schools putting more security measures in place to protect student information. Similar vulnerable cybersecurity systems play a supporting role in a variety of movies, including The Imitation Game, the autobiographical account of Alan Turing that became a sleeper hit in 2014.

Apocalypse: The Survival of the Human Race

Made on a $17 million budget, A Quiet Place was a box office smash in 2018, raking in $188 million in the U.S. alone. The story of a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, the film’s theme cuts close to home for many viewers. While humanity likely won’t face extinction due to the walking undead or the sonically sensitive monsters of A Quiet Place, however, the threat of climate change is very real.

And plenty of filmmakers have used climate change as an antagonist of sorts. A notable example is Bong Joon-ho’s underwatched Snowpiercer, which is set in a post-apocalyptic ice age caused by a failed experiment that was intended to counteract climate change.

Final Thoughts

Scientific advances are at least partially responsible for the resurgence of sci-fi stories on the silver screen. Thus far, the top science fiction films of the 2010s have featured manipulative robots pursuing a personal agenda and plenty of post-apocalyptic survival stories. Let’s all hope that today’s science fiction doesn’t turn into tomorrow’s reality.


Posted on Nov 1, 2018

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