Movie released: 2000 | Set in: early 21st century? “The near future”
|Duplication of adult humans||very low||2030+|
|Human cloning||high||at any time|
|Simpal-like smart dolls||high||2010+|
|Interactive virtual girlfriends||high||2010+|
|Laser firearms||very low||2030+|
|Genetically engineered food||occurred||occurred|
The movie avoids the realities of cloning, but adorns itself with a lot of standard futurist paraphenalia.
A serviceable action movie.
The “Sixth Day” laws banning human cloning were passed after a failed experiment 10 years before. Clones are illegal, have no rights, and are eliminated if discovered. Cloning is limited to pets and organs, and fundamentalists object even to those.
But Michael Drucker’s RePet company has secretly made cloning big business. They can reproduce a person in two hours, with a three-step process:
- Unfinished people, or “blanks,” are pre-grown.
- A DNA sample from the person being cloned guides the final development of the blank.
- The person’s full memories are scanned with a “syncording,” which can be taken almost instantly via the eyes, kept on a disc, and downloaded to the clone.
So the clone emerges physically identical to the “parent,” and with every memory up to the second the syncording is made.
Cloning is used to keep valued people around:
- An XFL football player with a $300 million contract is paralyzed in an accident, so RePet pulls the plug on him and clones a new one.
- Dr. Weir, RePet’s chief scientist, has cloned his wife, who died five years before.
- Drucker has been cloned several times, and is “backed up” with syncordings regularly.
- The company goons have all been cloned repeatedly, and are brought back each time Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) kills them. (At a cost of $1.2 million, Drucker reminds them.)
Because accelerated growth and syncordings are highly unlikely (See “Brain technology,” below), this movie largely avoids the real issues of cloning. It is likely to happen soon, but will be just another reproductive technology, to allow people to have children.
Cloned children will have the same problems as ordinary children, such as unreasonable parental expectations. But most societies place few restrictions on parenting, even when parents show gross incompetence, so clear reasons for banning cloning are lacking. (Nonetheless, Germany, Japan, Britain, and other countries have already outlawed it.)
Groups with peculiar agendas may also pursue cloning. (The Boys from Brazil is a good example and a good cloning movie in general.)
See: A note on cloning.
As for cloning people’s own organs, it will happen if it is feasible and useful, and patients and their supporters will ignore objectors.
In the film, RePet’s public face is pet cloning: it can reproduce a pet both physically and mentally in a couple of hours. Pets can be scanned up to 12 hours after death, so they have the same personality and memories.
A pet cloning endeavor, the Missyplicity Project, has already begun. Pet cloning may advance further and faster than human cloning, since there is more room for experimentation and failure, and because close may be good enough in pet appearance and personality replication. Duplicated pets will still be born the old-fashioned way, however, for the foreseeable future.
In the movie, the original cloning experiment failed because the human brain is too complex. In reality, that will likely be the greatest obstacle to replication of adults. We do not yet know how consciousness is formed, and it is unlikely that it will be easily recordable.
Physicist Lawrence Krauss suggests that measuring the mind is ruled out by fundamental physics. Our minds are based on the energy configurations of atoms, and quantum mechanics prohibits gathering sufficient information. If the information could be gathered, he calculates that it would amount to a million billion billion megabytes, which would be hard to fit on a disc.
When Gibson gets up, he gets the daily news on his bathroom mirror. The smart fridge knows that the milk is low and says it will order more.
Both of those are already possible. Gibson inhabits a more informated world that is closer every day. Its limits will be determined not by technology but by consumer choice: things will be as smart as we want them to be.
The current obstacles are compatibility standards, manufacturer decisions, and consumer resistance.
Cars and doors are accessed through biometric identification. This technology is in use, and will spread as fast as standardization and privacy concerns allow.
Gibson brings home a smart doll, a “simpal,” for his daughter. With voice recognition and sensors, it realizes it has been shot, telling the gunman “I have a booboo,” and attempts conversation with its abductors.
This kind of technology is already beginning, and could be at the level depicted commercially around 2010.
The simpal depicted in the movie violates a primary rule of high technology, however: creepy and disturbing will be rejected. The doll is ugly, its skin and eyes too lifelike. Designers will choose cute and deliberately unreal.
What children make of them will be interesting: research is showing that young children already regard Furbies and similar toys as intermediate between alive and inanimate.
Gibson’s pal Hank has a holographic virtual girlfriend. It is interactive but incorporeal, and cannot actually do anything physical.
This problem is cleverly solved: the hologram comes with a special chair. When Adam Gibson collapses in it, he is startled to find that it is unzipping his fly.
The biggest obstacles to this system are holographic projection, natural voice generation, and credible interactivity. The stimu-chair could already be built, and might be combined with virtual reality goggles.
The guns are blaster-type weapons that can blow holes in metal and stone, as well as people.
It is not clear if they are lasers, or some other type of energy weapon. In any case, it is unlikely that these will replace our current kinetic energy firearms for decades. Lasers that can do much physical damage now require tractor-trailers to haul them around, and aren’t likely to shrink to pistol size.
Gibson’s daughter offers him bananas at breakfast—nacho flavor or regular.
Most of the food in American stores is already genetically modified, but the modification is mostly for the convenience of producers, to make foods easier to grow or process. Modifications aimed at consumers, such as flavor or color changes, are possible but may not occur.
Blue apples or pork-flavored chicken will emphasize to the eater that the food was engineered, and will only come to market if genetic modification is fully accepted. That is still up in the air.
Some cars are fully self-driving, at least on highways, and ask the driver if he is ready to take over manual control as needed.
Cars that regulate speed, maintain spacing, and stay in their lanes even on turns have been demonstrated, with platoons of robot cars following each other along specially equipped experimental highways.
The obstacles to widespread self-driving cars are many:
- They will only work in controlled environments, where the number of variables is reduced.
- They will have difficulty sharing highways with human-controlled vehicles, since people introduce uncertainties. Millions of the cars of 2010 are already on the road, so we know that smartness will not be widespread for years after that.
- They require infrastructure, such as instrumented highways, that will take a long time to build.
- People will be slow to trust automatic systems, and laws and insurance practices will have to change to reflect them.
For these reasons they will come into service slowly. But cars will gradually become smarter, making decisions about road conditions, imminent collisions, etc.
When Gibson is being questioned at the police station, a holographic virtual attorney appears and advises him of his rights. When his medical record is changed to show mental illness, the virtual attorney changes to a virtual psychologist, who resembles Freud.
Interactions that require subtlety and understanding will be hard to automate in this fashion unless a more genuine artificial intelligence is created. Without real understanding, simulated attorneys or psychologists could do little more than construct software-generated responses based on keywords, case histories, and a subject’s emotional state.
Cigars are illegal; the Gibsons sneak out to the garage to smoke an illicit stogie.
This will not occur: the trends are going the other way, towards decriminalization of fairly harmless vices, such as marijuana smoking. More dangerous drugs, such as alcohol, will also remain legal.
The harmful effects of tobacco and alcohol are likely to be reduced with modifications and medicines, until they can be used more safely.