Movies about technology can tickle our fancies one day can be a stark reality the next.
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Big Screen Technology
Movies about technology are plentiful across genres and formats. Going all the way back to 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was made before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
Even then characters sported primitive portable computers and cell phones. Their portrayal of life in space would prove to be similar to Armstrong and his successors.
Though Siri was not born yet, the movie included software agents acting as personal assistants.
The 1970s saw movies about technology including the campy Logan's Run action-fantasy movie featuring hedonism in the confines of a domed city. Such hedonism, however, foreshadowed the modern dating app or online personal.
In 1983, WarGames made people fear the idea of a computer hacker starting a nuclear war. A lot of us know somebody who is always looking for early releases of games and movies.
Matthew Broderick was doing the same when he unknowingly stumbled upon a US military system.
With digital curiosity blooming in the early 1990s, Movies about technology such as Sneakers (1992) rode the wave. Illegal telephone network tampering (Phone Phreaks were early computer hackers) and the deciphering of encrypted data marked this noteworthy technology film.
Big Brother Is Watching
Later in the 1990s, movies about technology such as The Truman Show foreshadowed the digital surveillance age that was to come. Jim Carrey lived his life not realizing he was the star of a reality TV show.
Each day he is watched by millions, but he was unaware. Today, there is constant surveillance by way of cell phones, monitoring devices, and cameras.
When news breaks concerning a strange event, how often does camera footage show up days later?
The Truman Delusion
According to the film, all the people in Truman's life were actually actors and actresses. Something doesn't sit well with the main character, and he desires to get out of his hometown.
The show makes too much money for Truman to leave, so the actors pressure him to stay. They insinuate Truman has delusions.
To this very day, mental health specialists will refer to the “Truman Delusion” when patients believe they are being watched or are objects on a bigger stage, perhaps specifically having their lives broadcast for entertainment purposes.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report centered on the police's use of psychic individuals to prevent crimes preemptively.
Debate about psychics all you wish, but objective computer algorithms are in development to accomplish something even more reliable.
The movie's other technology, including spatial operating systems, can be seen today in Nintendo Wii. And, of course, the personalized advertising we experience today was previewed in the 2002 film.
Independent movies about technology, such as Robot and Frank (2012) are of note. The film featured Frank, a former jewel thief, suffering from dementia. His son provides him with a caretaker robot, who eventually becomes Frank's partner in crime.
Look closely, though. Frank's robot is quite similar to today's real Honda ASIMO robot.
A Primary Focus
Some movies, such as The Truman Show, invite technological discussion. Others, such as Robot and Frank, center on technology with a robot as a primary character.
Surely this was the case in the 80s comedy, Short Circuit. In this film, lightning strikes a military robot and exhibits characteristics that make it very lifelike. His sense of humor is one such attribute.
Fast forward to today, and the US military is engaged in robot work. Some even resemble “Johnny 5” from Short Circuit with its rolling tread.
The Total Recall remake in 2012 provides the mother load of movie technology, including a phone implant in characters' hands. This allows individuals' hands to turn solid surfaces into a display screen.
Similar technology is on the way known as the Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display.
Documentary movies about technology are an under-appreciated trove of work primarily focused on technology. Films such as Automation and the Future of Jobs put real-life technology front-and-center.
This Magnus Sjostrom film deals with the digitalization and robots affecting the future jobscape.
Likewise, Freedom Machines looked at technology's place in the aid of people with disabilities. Enabling technologies have the potential to dramatically lessen the gap between people with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
Finally, Inventions That Changed the World is a documentary that looks at technological inventions' impact on the modern world.
Too Far Fetched?
While documentaries can give us a real look at technology, let's shift back to traditional movies about technology. Are they too far fetched? Or do they contain abstract possibilities?
Surely, robots being struck by lightning and demonstrating lifelike qualities is science fiction. A look at the content of some movies about technology, however, can prove to be very prophetic.
Trekkies are quick to point to the Star Trek franchise as such a source of prophecy. Look no farther than flip phones.
However, Star Trek: The Motion Picture pushed the envelope with a smartwatch prototype. See the characters talking to their wrist-bound communication devices as early as 1979.
Long before you heard of Google Car, you sat with your girlfriend watching Total Recall.
Johnny Cab was offering to drive its passengers anywhere. Google Car, now known as Waymo, has moved on to self-driving minivans currently being tested on public roads in Arizona. Worry and litigation will go a long way in determining how soon Johnny Cab is seen on a road near you.
We already mentioned the computerized personal assistant prophesied in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was one of many good calls from this 60s classic.
Characters were busy on tablets, and, of course, HAL deserves one last mention.
Motion Sensing Input Devices
Remember the Minority Report-inspired algorithms that may help predict crime? That is only the tip of the iceberg regarding Minority Report's glimpse into the technological future.
As early as 2002 Tom Cruise was waving his arms like a young boy on a Nintendo Wii making things on his futuristic computer screen move. Microsoft already tried to make a similar product with Kinect though it wasn't well received by users.
Throw in eye scanners and targeted advertising, and Minority Report was on to many things.
Never say never about a laser watch. In Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery dawns a laser watch.
Connery's character inspired others to do the same. Laser technology has become more familiar, allowing one armchair inventor to build a laser watchable to cut things.
Back to the Future is an iconic film that took a humorous look into the future. Do you remember Marty McFly's children sitting at the dinner table in 2015 wearing glasses that allowed communication and entertainment?
In 2013 we were introduced to a Google Glass prototype. It never amounted to much, but today more usable smart glasses are on the market.
Thanks to movies about technology, we also ended up with the movie's power shoelaces. After debuting from Nike at over $700, a new version is coming soon at a lower price with Nike EARL (Electric Adaptable Reaction Lacing).
For the record, the more familiar scene where Marty blows up the stage with his version of Johnny B. Goode, is playing a Gibson ES-345 guitar, which wasn't introduced until 1958, despite the scene being set in 1955.
More Of The Future
Another look at the future came in Blade Runner. The Los Angeles of the future included today's animated billboards.
In the movie, a suspiciously dressed woman is animated on the billboard eating candy. Currently, video billboards line the highways and byways of our country. It may have been that scene from the film that inspired the advertising rush on roadways today.
Along these lines, Disney's Smart House was a premonition of its own, even though it seemed outlandish at the time.
In 1999, a family moved into a house where everything was controlled by artificial intelligence. The movie featured an Alexa-like personality called Pat. Her conversations were more lifelike than Alexa, though her voice was far more computerized.
While the film did not include Fitbits, Pat was nonetheless able to do quick and accurate biometrics, blending health and technology.
The house also contained a lot of virtual reality, and they didn't even need the headset. While there are similarities today, we can certainly control our heat, air, washer, dryer, and locks from far away places through smart technology.
Shoot For The Moon
In the 1940s, the silent film Woman in the Moon by Fritz Lang made demonstrated the necessary steps for a rocket launch and moon landing. Amazingly, Lang's steps were very similar to those NASA used to launch Neil Armstrong and company to the moon.
Lang even secured the help of rocket scientists to be sure the movie was believable. The film accounted for zero gravity, g-force, and other necessary obstacles.
Remaining the space realm, Iron Man features a space laboratory belonging to Tony Stark. He too has an Alexa-like assistant, JARVIS, who is a bit more advanced than Alexa.
And, like Minority Report, the Jarvis interface can be manipulated by motion sensing input.
Real Life Adaptions
Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has shown interest in replicating the film's virtual laboratory. Musk's Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), already develop and manufacture advanced rockets and spacecraft.
In fact, SpaceX can design some rocket parts using hand gestures. Other organizations are developing prototypes for three-dimensional computer screens that allow you to manipulate digital objects by reaching into the portal.
The 2013 film, Her, incorporates technology as a subtle reality of life. Most technology is voice activated without hardware taking up space on the counter.
The same is true of his gaming console, and, of course, his girlfriend. Girlfriend Samantha is an AI personality.
While Siri is not yet worthy of romance, many see technology as a cure for loneliness right around the corner. Algorithms like those mentioned in Minority Report will likely take artificial intelligence to new levels.
In other romantic areas, 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind features lovers Joel and Clementine. They turn to Lacuna Inc. wipe out all memories of their relationship after a difficult breakup.
Technology is able to map Joel's brain as it relates to memories of Clementine and erase specific data.
Today, technology is being explored to erase traumatic memories. It has already been attempted on laboratory animals. The formation and decay of memories as demonstrated in the film are very similar to current studies.
Picture a 13-foot, 6-ton mecha robot walking the streets of Japan. No, this not from film. It is a current reality.
Known as Kuratas, this mechanism built by the Suidodashi Company in Japan. Kuratas is rideable and user-operated.
The “world's first giant boarding robot" was introduced to the public in 2012.
One year later Pacific Rim debuted featuring giant mechas being created to overcome a monster known as Kaijus. The mechas are user-operated by two pilots.
Brain-controlled interfaces are for real. Our nervous system can now control prosthetic limbs, and simple technology devices can now react to our brain.
Elysium appeared in 2013 taking a futuristic look into 2154. By this time privileged have left earth for a space-dwelling leaving the lesser humanity behind. One such earth dweller is Max DaCosta, who lives on the decaying earth with a powered exoskeleton.
Interestingly, by 2014, a brain-powered exoskeleton was introduced at the World Cup when a paralyzed person in a brain-powered exoskeleton suit kicked the first ball.
Shifting to the year 2093, the film Prometheus featured Weyland Industries, sort of a fictional SpaceX, undertakes a project to allow humans to find the creator of the universe. The film features such technology as hypersleep chambers, humanoid androids, and medical procedure pods.
Well, hypersleep remains a dream, and humanoid androids are till closer to robots than real people. However, scientists are looking for any relevance between a bear's hibernation pattern and its applications to humans.
There are also experiments underway with remotely controlled surgical robots. The most realistic technology in the movie, however, is the mapping drones. Drones are already creating some of the most accurate shoreline maps available.
Similar technology is available in driverless cars; channel your Total Recall here.
Ender's Game (2013) was a 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card. There was no CGI technology in 1985 to do justice to Card's book. Watch a 1985 cartoon and compare it to today's 3D digital animation.
CGI technology gave life to Scott's action scenes and battles. Today, along with CGI technology, we have autonomous weapons systems (controlled by algorithms).
These play into an ongoing discussion around technology's place in the ethics of war. Some estimate thousands of real US soldiers will be replaced by robots within a couple of decades.
Drones will also add to the troops' numbers. They can carry supplies, people, or weapons.
Paprika (2006) involved dream therapy. Technology allowed an individual to access another individual's dreams.
Scientists continue to look for ways to view another person's dreams. Using algorithms and brain scans, scientists have predicted the images in dreams with startling accuracy.
Tron: Legacy (2010) was the long-awaited sequel to Tron (1982). In the newer film, a man finds himself trapped in a computer game as his son searches for his missing father.
Physicists now believe through quantum computing and teleportation that eventually a real-world particle will be teleported into a quantum computer. While the physical matter of the particle would stay in the real world, particle information could be teleported into the computer.
In a humorous commentary on human nature, Wall-E (2008) centers on a mega-corporation that has destroyed the planet, leaving overweight humans to live on luxury spaceships and ride around on hover-chairs while obsessing over social networking.
In truth, hover-chair prototypes exist with the ability to float on a cushion of air and carry travelers over 300 pounds. In the real world, these prototypes are for seniors.
What are you looking at as you view technology props in movies? Are the computers real or fake?
Do we need technology to mimic technology? Well, some productions aim to be more real than others. In the 1950s, the Quadruplex revolutionized the TV industry.
Its reel-to-reel feature could record a live show quickly and cost-effectively. At over five feet high, the magnet tape-based Quadruplex eventually became antiquated.
Christine (2016) was a film about a female broadcaster set in 1974. To keep the props real, the producers needed to find a Quadruplex. It took many days and much travel, but a well-preserved Quadruplex was used in the shooting of the movie.
Another Dirty Secret
Typically, when a real computer is used as a movie prop, the program is not real. Programs are custom-made for particular films.
When actors sit down at a computer, custom programs appear on the screen regardless of what the actor types.
Other times the content of the screen is shot separately. In Office Space (1999), as Peter is powering down his computer to avoid his boss and a possible weekend work schedule, the camera zooms in on an Optiquest monitor. However, Peter is using an entirely different monitor in most shots.
Speaking of Office Space, one of the industry's most iconic scenes involves the destruction of a printer in an open field as the primary characters leave their cubicles long enough to beat the printer with a bat.
Yes, the prop was a real printer.
In a humorous reprisal and tribute, Coach Tom Herman, who coached the University of Houston football team in 2016, posted social media footage of himself beating a copier-printer-fax machine.
Sometimes futuristic technology props in movies aren't futuristic at all. Big budgets don't always disallow common sense. In Total Recall, one character's high-tech wearable computer was actually a tape recorder strapped to a wrist.
In WarGames, Broderick's character has an original IMSAI 8080 PC with 17-inch black-and-white monitor. The real deal.
In the film, it communicated to other computers over a modem. To give the appearance of 80s high tech, a 1200-baud modem with an acoustic coupler was connected to a landline phone.
Other props utilized a classic HP 9845C and an Apple II.
More Than Sci-Fi?
It certainly appears from a review of movies about technology that they span much more than science fiction. While science fiction is present, movies about technology touch on comedy, romance, and drama.
They also include documentaries and historical reenactments. Consider The Social Network (2010). The film examines the founding of Facebook as written by Aaron Sorkin. The film addresses ideas of friendship, loyalty, power struggles, and more. The film was highly acclaimed and begs for a sequel.
The aforementioned Her (2013) was a romantic drama nominated for five Oscars.
Utopia Or Dystopia?
Do the majority of movies about technology show technological concepts involved in a utopian or dystopian society?
You can find some of each if you look closely, but more often than not, technology leads to trouble. Even in a charmer such as Disney's Smart House, the technology had to be reasoned with and overcome.
WarGames puts us on the brink of nuclear war, and the lovable Johnny 5 (Short Circuit) required a bolt of lightning to differentiate himself from the other robotic killers.
As technology expands, so does man's imagination. Films give those imaginations a chance to expand while giving the minds of others a chance to make it a reality.