Movie released: 1984 | Set in: 10192
|Rejection of computers and AI||low||2030+|
|Creation of new kinds of humans||medium||2050+|
|Miniature flying combat robots||high||2015+|
|Force shields||very low||2050+|
Long-term scenario exploration with religious overtones.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most extraordinary attempts to think about the long-term future, and the movie catches fragments of its spirit.
Society / AI
Humans fall under the domination of “thinking machines with human minds” — conscious artificial intelligences. Whether ruled by computers or simply dependent on them, people lose control of their destiny, and fall into technological and cultural inertia.
Such stagnation could persist for millennia, if change was suppressed by design or circumstances. Some human cultures have spent tens of thousands of years with little material change. In the year 6041, the Great Revolt launched a religious crusade against the machines, and computers were forbidden.
Fear of science and its results has been with us for centuries. This fear has grown more acute since the mid-twentieth century, as the power of science has increased.
The idea that we might create a rival intelligence that could overthrow us is probably older than computers themselves, and has been depicted in movies from Metropolis to The Matrix.
The idea has received more attention in recent years, as computers have become ubiquitous and achieved milestones such as Deep Blue’s defeat of Garry Kasparov at chess. Bill Joy’s 2000 article warning that AI was one of three perils that could endanger the future of humanity brought the issue to new prominence.
But we are still far from turning away from the pursuit of more machine intelligence. Simple silicon computing driven by Moore’s Law may not get us to true AI, but more exotic forms are on the horizon, including biocomputing, quantum computing, and machine-animal cyborgs. Ultimately, it would probably take signs of an awakening intelligence to turn us away from the creation of artificial minds, and even that is uncertain. (See also A note on AI.)
Without computers, people have concentrated on developing the powers of the human mind.
- Mentats are human computers, bred to perform feats of logic.
- The Bene Gesserit can shape the thoughts and responses of others through words and actions.
- Space Guild navigators no longer appear human at all, after 4,000 years of accelerated evolution, and are now bloated creatures floating in immense vats.
With millennia of deliberate breeding, humans could be reshaped. Any ability or characteristic could be honed far beyond its natural form — witness what we’ve done to dogs in far less time.
Combined with training, breeding could create humans with savant skills in any ability based on biology. We could breed mentats. Bene Gesserit “witches” would be harder, though some measure of this could be achieved by selecting for charisma and the ability to read people.
Genetic manipulation would drastically shift what is possible. Determined breeders could radically enhance any human ability, and bring in any sense or trait from the animal world, such as seeing in the infrared or detecting magnetic fields.
The problem of the immensity of space is solved in a quasi-mystical way: the spice drug produced by the giant “worms” of Arakis allows the Space Guild’s navigators to “fold space.”
Spice thus seems to have properties that allow the mind to interact with the fundamental physical properties of the universe, a characteristic now beyond our understanding. Given that the matter and energy of the brain are probably not special, the mind is unlikely to have powerful physical capabilities.
Spice also allows the Bene Gesserit to “see beyond,” perceiving across time. Like folding space, this is a property of spice’s interaction with fundamental physics, and is also now unimaginable.
There is no credible evidence that anyone has been able to see across time, and it seems highly unlikely this ability will appear.
Warfare and weapons
A hunter-seeker, a small flying assassination weapon, is sent into the Atreides’ palace. It detects motion, but requires human operation.
Small robotic devices are being developed for the battlefield. The ground and air vehicles are mostly intended for reconnaissance, but could be equipped with weaponry. It is already technically possible to build a model-sized autonomous robotic plane that could attack people with poison darts or a small gun. It could even target a particular individual, though facial recognition technology is still somewhat crude.
Energy “shields” offer protection for people and places, blocking all projectile weapons, and compelling the use of slow-moving swords and daggers.
Shields are beyond currently understood physics, and may or may not prove possible.