We are a scant 40 years away from the futuristic world that science fiction author Philip K. Dick envisioned for Minority Report in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.
Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we may have already arrived at the year 2054.
Increasingly, the world around us resembles Dick's dystopian police state in which the police combine widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining and precognitive technology to capture would-be criminals before they can do any damage. In other words, the government's goal is to prevent crimes before they happen: precrime.
Seemingly taking its cue from science fiction, technology has moved so fast in the short time since Minority Report premiered in 2002 that what once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction. Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike--facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on--are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, Spielberg's unnerving vision of the future is fast becoming our reality.
FICTION: In Minority Report, police use holographic data screens, city-wide surveillance cameras, dimensional maps and database feeds to monitor the movements of its citizens.
REALITY CHECK: Microsoft, in a partnership with New York City, has developed a crime-fighting system that "will allow police to quickly collate and visualise vast amounts of data from cameras, licence plate readers, 911 calls, police databases and other sources. It will then display the information in real time, both visually and chronologically, allowing investigators to centralise information about crimes as they happen or are reported."
FICTION: No matter where people go in the world of Minority Report, one's biometric data precedes them, allowing corporations to tap into their government profile and target them for advertising based on their highly individual characteristics. So fine-tuned is the process that it goes way beyond gender and lifestyle to mood detection, so that stores and billboards call out to passersby with advertising geared at their interests and moods. In an effort to outwit the identification scanners, some citizens opt for surgery to have their eyeballs replaced.
REALITY CHECK: Google is working on context-based advertising that will use environmental sensors in your cell phone, laptop, etc., to deliver "targeted ads tailored to fit with what you're seeing and hearing in the real world." However, long before Google set their sights on context advertising, facial and iris recognition machines were being employed, ostensibly to detect criminals, streamline security checkpoints processes, and facilitate everyday activities. For example, in preparing to introduce such technology in the United States, the American biometrics firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) turned the city of Leon, Mexico into a virtual police state by installing iris scanners, which can scan the irises of 30-50 people per minute, throughout the city.
Police departments around the country have begun using the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, a physical iPhone add-on that allows police officers patrolling the streets to scan the irises and faces of suspected criminals and match them against government databases. In fact, in 2014, the FBI launched a nationwide database of iris scans for use by law enforcement agencies in their efforts to track criminals.
Corporations, as well, are beginning to implement eye-tracking technology in their tablets, smartphones, and computers. It will allow companies to track which words and phrases the user tends to re-read, hover on, or avoid, which can give insight into what she is thinking.
FICTION: In Minority Report, a Pre-Crime division utilizes psychic mutant humans to determine when a crime will take place next.
REALITY CHECK: While no psychic mutants are powering the government's predictive policing efforts, the end result remains the same: a world in which crimes are prevented through the use of sophisticated data mining, surveillance, community policing and precrime. For instance, police in major American cities have been test-driving a tool that allows them to identify individuals--or groups of individuals--most likely to commit a crime in a given community. Those individuals are then put on notice that their movements and activities will be closely monitored and any criminal activity (by them or their associates) will result in harsh penalties. In other words, you are guilty before you are given any chance to prove you are innocent.
FICTION: In Minority Report, government agents use "sick sticks" to subdue criminal suspects using less-lethal methods.
REALITY CHECK: A variety of less-lethal weapons have been developed in the years since Minority Report hit theaters. In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security granted a contract to Intelligent Optical Systems, Inc., for an "LED Incapacitator," a flashlight-like device that emits a dazzling array of pulsating lights, incapacitating its target by causing nausea and vomiting. Raytheon has created an "Assault Intervention Device" which is basically a heat ray that causes an unbearable burning sensation on its victim's skin. The Long Range Acoustic Device, which emits painful noises in order to disperse crowds, has been seen at the London Olympics and G20 protests in Pittsburgh.