Writing the future: Wired Magazine’s article on the creation of Minority Report

Posted on 24/06/2012


Minority Report gesture control screen

Talking tech with someone is always a challenge. Our relationship with knowledge is like a pyramid: to get to the high up, complicated stuff, you first need the foundations. At the same time, the higher up you go, the fewer people actually have the foundations for this knowledge. This is why trying to explain technical issues to a non-technical person is always hard work. Somehow, you need to communicate both the background information needed to understand a problem AND then explain what the problem is. More often than not, people switch off at the first bit and when the important bit comes around, you’ve lost them.

However, there are some tools that can make it easier. Diagrams, for instance, can show the different relationships and flows without having to verbalise them. Metaphor is another gem that gets you talking about an abstract concept in (hopefully) a simple and familiar way.

But there’s another more familiar tool I keep using. Strangely, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report is the easiest way I’ve found to describe future tech.

It works for a whole range of things. Cookies and banner ads stalking you across the Internet? This is like the point in the film where Tom Cruise’s character keeps being recognised by digital billboards as he passes, only in our case it’s a web browser not facial recognition that is making this happen.

Touch screens and Microsoft’s Kinect are two other concepts best described by the film. The film’s always been surprisingly accurate about the world of the future. As it turns out, Mr Spielberg did his homework.

For it’s 10 year anniversary (and presumably a special edition Blu-ray re-release) Wired published an interview with the people who helped predict what that future world would be like. A combination of technologists, futurists and designers came together before the script was even written to dream and plan how this world would look.

Two important things come out of this. The first is this:

“When entertainment frames the future, it becomes a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Did the film make the technology or did technology make the film? It’s interesting that one of the people involved, Janssen, did end up at Microsoft, working on the Xbox Kinnect. Was it’s creation influenced more by the meeting or by available gaming technology? Had this not been included, would it still have been invented?

The other thing is that the film is hardly new. We might not have jetpacks (yet) but we’ve achieved a lot of the things included in the film. It’s starting to feel slightly contemporary, more like the present than the future. So where should we turn to next for our inspiration? Has science fiction and the film industry hit a brick wall? Who out there is painting the most accurate picture of the future?

Read the article on Wired.