Demolition Man

Movie released: 1993 | Set in: 2032

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Neo-puritan society in United States low 2020+
Automated social monitoring medium 2015+
Nearly crime-free society very low 2040+
Genetic analysis of skills and nature medium 2020+
Implanting of skills and knowledge into brain low 2050+
Virtual sex low 2040+
Cryogenic prisons very low 2030+
Universal tracking chips medium 2020+
Self-driving cars high 2025+
Car safety foam low 2020+
AI-powered expert systems beginning beginning
Electric cars widespread medium 2030+
Elimination of physical money high 2030+

Approach to the future
Semi-satirical backdrop for action; it is a flawed, playful action movie that uses the future mostly for satire. For instance, all restaurants have merged and are part of the Taco Bell chain.


Futurism: 7
The pitch to the studio must have been “Rambo in ‘Brave New World’!” but the result is better than one might imagine. The scenario is pursued thoroughly and with imagination.

Entertainment: 6

Plausibility: 4

Interesting depictions

Social control:
Monitoring stations keep tabs on citizen behavior, instantly fining those who use forbidden language. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) gets fined frequently.

Pervasive monitoring will soon be possible. Cameras automatically catch red-light-runners, and gunshot detectors are being installed in urban areas. License plate scanners on police cars will run through several plates a second, looking for stolen cars and suspects. Facial recognition technology is advancing, and will begin to appear in places like airports and border crossings.

By 2020, ubiquitous monitoring systems for any kind of language or behavior will be feasible. In the United States, they are likely to be only for controlling criminal behavior in certain areas. In places like Singapore or Japan, which give more weight to social cohesion, they might be used more widely and obtrusively.

In the movie, crime has been virtually eliminated—the last murder was 22 years earlier. This seems to be the result of mental conditioning and pervasive social monitoring.

Most serious crime could be eliminated, through alleviating social causes, monitoring for criminal behavior, treatment of criminals, and identification and modification of the potentially dangerous.   Some of these will be controversial, and most Western societies will balk at making people submit to perpetual monitoring, chemical treatments, and preemptive control. Some societies will be less hesitant.

California of 2032 is neo-puritan: everything that isn’t deemed good for you is bad for you, and everything bad for you is illegal. Cigarettes, non-educational toys, gasoline, red meat, and contact sports have all been banned.

There is a trend to protect people from their own foolishness, by mandating seatbelt use, for instance, but it would take a drastic social shift to take things this far. Americans are fierce about their liberties: many would cling to the freedom to be imperfect, as the renegade Scraps do in the San Angeles of 2032.

In the movie, the populace demanded order after a huge earthquake in 2011. It would take a larger cataclysm or upheaval, like wholesale economic collapse or war, to reverse the general American trend toward greater freedom.

It is more likely that our vices will be made safe, leaving in the pleasure but taking out the danger. See also: “Security” and “Sex / brain technology” below.

Information technology:
A virtual meeting is held, with each participant represented on a flat screen mounted on the conference table. All participants can see each other, and their flat screens can swivel to listen to different speakers.

It is a visually effective virtual presence, but such a hardware-tied system is unlikely to succeed in the face of more agile two-dimensional and virtual reality systems that are coming into use already.

Brain technology / genetics:
While they are frozen, prisoners in the cryopenitentiary are analyzed genetically to see what socially useful task they are suitable for. Knowledge and abilities are then downloaded directly into the brain. John Spartan (Stallone) is found to be suitable for sewing and knitting, and wakes up with the urge to knit and the skills to match.

Research is increasingly suggesting ties between genes and resulting traits and inclinations. As we decode the human genome in coming decades, it is likely that it will be possible to partially discern what people will be skilled at or enjoy.

Implanting memories and skills will be considerably more difficult. We currently don’t even know how memories are stored in our brains. Because memory is stored at the chemical and atomic level, in an immensely complicated structure, it may be impossible to either implant artificial memories or skills.

Perhaps it might be possible to implant simpler skills by converting them into the signal as it would be processed by sensory nerves, and sending it into the brain to be put in the proper places. But that ability is decades away, if it ever arrives. See also: “Sex / brain technology” below.

Everyone has an implanted “organic biochip,” allowing them to be tracked.   Implanted tracking chips are already coming into use, for pets and reportedly for people who are worried about being kidnapped.

They will become more widespread, and some society might make them mandatory. But they will not be necessary for purposes of identification—biometrics and genetics suffice for that—and Western societies would resist such a violation of privacy.

Other technologies/topics depicted

Prisons and punishment:
Spartan and his adversary Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) are frozen in the California Cryopenitentiary in 1996; Spartan is sentenced to 70 years.

The point of a cryopenitentiary is obscure, as the prisoners are not supposed to be aware of the passage of time, and are subjected to mind-modification rehab (see “Brain technology,” above). A week is theoretically the same as 10 years.

Freezing people won’t be achievable for decades, and will never be used for penal purposes.

Sex / brain technology:
Sex has been outlawed as dangerous and unclean. People are no longer used to touching each other.

Because sexual behavior is so heavily hardwired, it might be relatively easy to engineer with genetic and chemical interventions. But the societies that would contemplate doing this—North Korea, for instance—are dwindling. Westerners would not submit to it, whatever the wishes of some on the Christian right.

Virtual reality is substituted, with direct-to-brain “digital transference of sexual energies.”

Some clunky devices for virtual sex are already being devised. But virtual sex won’t replace the real thing until images and sensations can be downloaded directly into the brain—and this may never be possible.

Cars can drive themselves, and have “secure-foam” that erupts during a crash.

Self-driving cars are in the experimental stage. They will not work outside controlled environments, and will have difficulty sharing the road with human-controlled vehicles. For these reasons they will come into service only slowly and decades from now. More likely is a gradual increase in the smartness of cars, so that they begin to make more decisions, especially concerning safety. Anti-lock brakes are an example.

Car safety will continue to increase as other dangers recede. Something like safety foam might be achieved with an electrorheological gel or an instantly hardening spray foam—though it would need to not asphyxiate the passengers.

The cars have “capacitance cores,” and seem to be electric. Despite ongoing experiments with electrics, internal combustion cars will be around for a while, and their successor appears to be hybrids and cars using clean fuel cells. But electrics might be common by 2032.

Artificial intelligence:
Police trying to apprehend Phoenix ask the computer for advice.

This is the most plausible kind of artificial intelligence, and has begun in a primitive way: the mostly wrong grammar suggestions of Microsoft Word are an example. Such expert systems will become pervasive, and quite effective within well-defined areas of knowledge.

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The futures depicted in the movies