Science fiction is a genre of storytelling concerned with imagining alternate worlds and futures based on scientific principles, while predicting how our lives will be affected by these new realities. The genre provides a roadmap of the evolution of the imagination as we have moved from dwelling in caves to skyscrapers and, ultimately, space colonies.
Science fiction writers often use the genre to explore controversial issues confronting society and warn about the bleak future awaiting us, if we do not change our current behavior. If you have read my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, then you know that even when a utopian society is envisioned, where everyone is free from want, unhappiness, pain, and suffering, it winds up becoming dystopian in nature, which suggests there’s no escaping the darker side of human nature.
Today, we live in a world with many complex problems still needing to be solved. We are witnessing more natural disasters as a result of climate change, buildings collapsing with no means of rescuing the people buried beneath the rubble, people losing limbs in wars and terror attacks without the ability to regrow them, the rise of Social Darwinism with the death of the American Dream, pointless partisan gridlock in Congress that is hastening the country’s decline, and an escalation of cyberwarfare among nations, just to name a few.
If the future is now, then the following Sci-Fi movies seek to interrogate our current social and political systems, and the impact of technology and medical science on our morality, identity, and belief-system:
Prediction: The activities of citizens are monitored and controlled by a totalitarian government.
Reality: Recent revelations about the U.S. surveillance programs indicate that Big Brother is watching us in the name of fighting terrorism. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans appear more reconciled to losing some rights to privacy and other civil liberties for greater security.
Prediction: Los Angeles becomes a dystopian society that is polluted, overcrowded and besieged by corporate advertising. Human clones or replicants that were created to work as laborers on an off-world colony have rebelled and are being hunted down by Blade Runners driving gravity-defying vehicles.
Reality: The cloning of humans remains illegal, although animals have been successfully cloned. The infrastructure for gravity-defying automobiles is still not a reality, but the first driverless car has been built by Google. Even though we are bombarded by nonstop advertisement, it is what enables us to access free infotainment.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Prediction: Lifelike robots will take care of the basic needs of humans, and even fill the emotional void in their lives.
Reality: Humans have become dependent on their smart phones and electronic devices, rather than on personal robots. Despite the many benefits of technology in the workplace, it is causing large-scale worker obsolescence.
Prediction: Law enforcement agencies will predict and stop crimes before they occur.
Reality: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is engaged in an ongoing battle to anticipate and prevent acts of terror before they occur. It is not unusual for drone strikes to be ordered on suspected foreign terrorists.
Prediction: Clones of human beings will be harvested for replaceable body parts.
Reality: Advances in medicine are helping to extend the lifespan of humans, which means that the better we understand stem cells and DNA, the faster we will be able to cure life-threatening diseases, reverse aging and grow replaceable body parts.
Prediction: Criminals and other misfits are removed from society and cryogenically preserved.
Reality: Even though cryogenics still remains in the realm of science fiction, some people have chosen to be cryogenically preserved after they die, with the hope that science will advance where they could be brought back to life. On the other hand, with the rise of the prison industrial complex, more citizens are being locked away and are serving longer sentences. Those prisoners who are buried alive for twenty-three hours and then resuscitated for one hour each day quietly go insane, which seems to suggest that cryogenically preserving prisoners may be a little more humane.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Prediction: Less privileged women are forced to become surrogate mothers for the elites in society.
Reality: Surrogacy is voluntary in America and all parties are protected by a written contract. However, some couples from the West pay women in developing countries to become their surrogate mothers. Not to be outdone, lawmakers in America are trying to turn back the clock by enacting new laws to force women to bear children against their will, even in cases of rape and incest.
Prediction: Climate change will cause severe natural disasters.
Reality: On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast and caused about $60 billion in damages, which proves how prescient this prediction was in its timing. More investment is needed to develop better advance warning systems and to build sturdier shelters.
Prediction: Society is divided based on the genetics of its citizens.
Reality: As we become better at manipulating the DNA code, more parents may be tempted to decide the sex of their unborn children and the physical characteristics they wish them to have. Expectant parents are already being informed of potential birth defects and have the option of not carrying the babies to term.
Prediction: Climate change and overpopulation will cause severe food shortages.
Reality: As more forests and farmlands are converted into cities, it is becoming increasingly hard to feed the world’s population. It is no wonder we are seeing the rise of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As a result, more people are opting to purchase organic foods as an alternative.
War of the Worlds
Prediction: An alien invasion from Mars forces nations to fight together for the very survival of earth.
Reality: We are yet to be contacted by Martians or other aliens, although NASA recently sent a rover to Mars on an exploration mission. It will be interesting to see our response if Martians are encountered, since we already have a hard time getting along with each other from the same species.
I Am Legend
Prediction: A pandemic disease leaves a sole survivor, who must navigate his way amid an infected population.
Reality: We are in a perpetual race to find a vaccine for one infectious disease after another. These superbugs are developing immunity to antibiotics and pose a serious health risk to the global community. The good news is that search engines like Google can help us identify infected areas as people search online for more information about the diseases.
Prediction: A father and son encounter lawless cannibalistic gangs as they travel across a post-apocalyptic America.
Reality: We have witnessed a new form of cannibalism by corporate elites, who might as well have fed on their fellow citizens, after stripping the country of its manufacturing sector and turning many neighborhoods into ghost towns. With the collapse of the economy after the 2008 Great Recession, many Americans are finding themselves traveling a metaphorical post-apocalyptic road.
Prediction: People are willing pay to experience fake memories and alternate states of reality.
Reality: The Internet has created myriad ways for us to be entertained twenty-hours a day, ranging from cable network programming, streaming movies, videogames, and social networking sites. If creativity depends on stilling the senses, then one is hard-pressed to imagine what kind of future will be invented.
Prediction: Firefighters are ordered to burn books as part of a government program to suppress free thought and individualism.
Reality: Instead of a problem with censorship, we are experiencing quite the opposite with the overabundance of self-published works. The digital revolution has made it quite easy for indie authors to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing industry, who once guided the culture and acted as curators. It has disrupted the industry by driving down the cost of books and shrinking the profit margin of many companies.