Four Pieces of Dystopian Sci-Fi Tech That Wouldn’t Be So Bad

pre cogs1

Over the years, there have been many films that show how continued technological progress in our society might lead to some pretty scary consequences. It’s a common theme in sci-fi, and it’s found in a number of the best movies in the genre.

But on closer inspection, are the sorts of advances in these movies really all that bad? I decided to think back to a few films that really didn’t make the most of their own technology, or presented in a really negative light when that didn’t necessarily need to be the case.

Check out my picks below, and I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments.

The Pre-Cogs (Minority Report)

pre cogs2

All these years later, I’m still waiting for someone to explain this to me. The Pre-Cog system being tested in DC dropped the murder rate to ZERO in Minority Report. But things go awry when Tom Cruise is framed for a murder he is not going to commit (but then does), and it’s discovered that the pre-cog system was used to cover up another murder years earlier.

After the startling revelation, the entire system is dismantled and it’s back to square one in terms of fighting crime.

Excuse me?

Look, I get that this newfangled sort of justice system has its flaws, and it allowed someone to get away with murder and could potentially convict innocent people, but SO WHAT? Our CURRENT system convicts innocent people all the time! But you’re willing to throw away a system that literally allowed for a singular murder in all the time it was in operation? What a horrible, horrible waste of what’s obviously a huge leap forward for society. Sure, it’s not perfect and can be abused, but that was certainly far truer of the old system. I never understood why the events of the film necessitated the complete dismantling of the system.

Organ Farms (The Island)

the island

We’re already starting to have the ability to grow organs in labs, and the logical extension of this would be people having identical copies of themselves somewhere that they could pull organs from if need be. An endless supply of body parts to replace whatever gets worn out over time.

The problem with the concept in movies like The Island and Never Let Me Go is that they wake these damn clones up. Who says you have to make a little clone country club or boarding school? Just leave them in comas for their entire existence and you don’t have to deal with any pesky moral problems as to whether or not they’re real people with real lives.

This one sounds more heartless than most perhaps, but really, would you be opposed to a comatose copy of yourself existing out there somewhere if it meant that you could have blood, bone, and organ transfusions at any time? I think not. Or I’m a monster. Not sure which.

Prozium (Equilibrium)



In Equilibrium, there’s a drug in the future called Prozium that has completely eliminated war and violence of any kind. It suppresses emotion to the point where the subject can no longer feel anger, and as such, society no longer feels the need to tear apart each other in combat.

Well, for the most part. The downside to the drug is that it also suppresses positive emotion. Love, nostalgia, all that stuff. And there’s still plenty of violence when the fascist government that uses the drug hunts down and murders those who don’t take the drug and still appreciate art and sex and things like that.

Here, I think the problem was in the application, not necessarily the drug itself. Paired with the horribly oppressive government, it’s a terrible idea. But used correctly? You freaking eliminated WAR man! How the hell else are you going to pull that off? So long as you’re not hunting down and murdering people for liking to paint and sing, I think there’s still a way to use this sort of drug effectively for the betterment of society.

The Matrix (The Matrix)


“You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

– Cypher

I loved The Matrix when I saw it back in ’99, but this line always stuck with me, and made the murderous Judas Cypher something of a relatable villain. Given the current state of the world in The Matrix, why would you NOT want to simply be plugged in and forget it all?

If your brain was telling you that a plane of existence WAS reality in every way that mattered, why exactly were you better off being sucked out of the simulation and thrust into the real world where you have to wear grey burlap clothing and eat protein porridge for every meal and aren’t a superhero?  Why would you not choose the steak?

Perhaps society would break down if people started being able to simulate every important aspect of life in a VR system like The Matrix, but at least we’d all die happier than we would on the outside, wouldn’t we?

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  1. I could probably write a thesis, so this won’t be coherent.

    Boiled down, most of these movies have to do with the conflict between comfort and free will.* In such a scenario, the technology — and, this is important, the people who control it — would always find a way to make comfort the more appealing option. Which it is. Nobody really likes war, nobody likes sickness or murder or unhappiness or anything else. And yes, it would seem to be great if those things could go away forever.

    The thing that these movies (and a lot of sci-fi) are trying to address is that taking shortcuts to happiness is kind of like cheating in school. Sure, you might get the same grade, or even a better one, than somebody who actually does the work and learns the material. But in the end — when you’ve graduated or you encounter something harder or whatever — that “A” doesn’t really mean anything.

    In Equilibrium, they may have cured the world of war… but did that stop violence? The drug-fueled haze only works as long as everybody agrees and nobody messes up. And when has being human ever meant agreement or perfection?

    I won’t throw religion in the mix, but there’s a whole ‘nother set of things there.

    Have you read Brave New World? It’s sort of a “take it to its logical conclusion” treatment of what happens when you create a society that has truly achieved what it considers to be happiness and comfort. And it’s basically an unacknowledged hell on earth that sucks people soulless without their ever realizing it.

    *Gattaca excepted, sort of. That one, though, gets into a lot of other stuff where basically it only looks good from the perspective of the people who have this extra help. There’s a reason they don’t allow performance enhancers in professional sports, and it’s at least in part because there’s some part of us that realizes that’s simply unfair.

  2. In regards to minority report, you now have a police system that is in no way experienced to handle murder crimes. It would basically be the scene from “Demolition Man” when Snipes first escapes….for every single murder that takes place. and I’m sure there’d be a lot of them. Simply because the day that the news announces that the pre-crime division has been abandoned, it wouldn’t take long for people to take advantage of it.

    Just think of it like when a person gives up something for a period of time and then goes hog wild with it the day that period ends.

  3. I feel like you’ve picked out some of the technologies here and ignored the context. The context is important because it is a commentary on how we would handle this stuff in real life.

    Eg. Enhanced genetics are a good thing, but only if you can guarantee the same benefits for everyone and absolutely zero discrimination. The whole ‘going to space’ thing is just an extreme, everyone with poor genetics are forced to work menial degrading jobs and have a miserable life.

    The pre-cog thing is interesting. You can argue that it had a better hit-rate than the old system when it comes to punishing people and that it stopped murder, however, they couldn’t be sure how many of the people they had stopped would actually have gone on to commit the murder. There’s also the issue that those three people were being forced into slavery for the sake of the system which can’t be right.

    Equilibrium is another one on which I’m not sure. Is it fair that people who are already pacifists should be forced to remove all their emotions? In the end people only live to be happy in one way or another, so what would be the point in living at all if you couldn’t be happy? Taking those pills also removed empathy, as shown by the officers cruelly executing the dogs for no good reason. Humans who care little for anything but their own preservation will hunt animals into extinction and spread over the Earth with no regard to wether it is morally acceptable.

  4. I liked this article it’s good for a mental thought provoking discussion.

    I will say that I agree with the Gattaca one the most. Improving genetics does not seem like a terrible idea to me.

    The Matrix one I’m less okay with, but only because I feel like it should be more of a choice rather then blind you’re matrix. I know if you didn’t know you’re in the matrix it doesn’t matter but in the Matrix people clearly knew they weren’t.

    The other ones I have strong disagreements with. I can understand where you’re coming from but I have different viewpoints.

    Minority Report: I do agree the idea of a Pre-Cog division that eliminates murder is a good idea. I think you’re going for an all or nothing approach on the system. Either you’re willing to accept the few innocents for a zero murder rate or you must have a higher murder rate to save a few innocents. If you’ve eliminated all murder then that means you have gotten very good at responding to possible attacks even heat of moment ones. So why do people need to be jailed for significant time, and why do you need to arrest them to begin with. My take on the Pre-Cog system would be first time offenders would not be arrested but warned and made to do community service or maybe under go a mental evaluation. The second one would come with more time and then if someone goes for a 3 attempt comes with significant jail time. This should eliminate innocent people going to jail.

    The other two I can’t agree with you at all.

    Organ Farms because if the only thing keeping the clones from being fully functional thinking people is you turning off their brains then no I don’t want a clone. Even if they can’t feel anything it’s essentially a human being being suppressed for use by a more in control group.

    And Equilibrium I think you’re missing the point. First of all they were said to eliminate all war but then immediately started another one. So the movie shows that in fact War and Violence wasn’t ended. Secondly the drug in essence turned human beings into programmable computers that have to essentially follow everything they are told as long as it is confirmed by a higher authority. And computers by nature are dumb machines that do highly repeatable tasks very quickly. Removing our ability to feel imo removes an essential key component to human adaptation and advancement.

  5. It’s not like you to troll, Paul. You’re either jerking our chain or you’re gearing up to be one of those supervillains who wants to destroy the world so you can rebuild it as perfect. What is the point of a “superior” world if humans don’t have rights or freedom to be who they want to be without someone else’s permission?

    Perfecting the human race has been tried the old fashioned way in Germany. It didn’t seem that great. Doing it again with technology would lead to a much more advanced version of the exact same thing. Be who they make you to be or be nothing at all is not a good deal.

    Taking anything out of context takes any meaning away from it. If we lived in a perfect word with perfect people, some of this could be good (but would be unnecessary since everything’s already perfect) but since no such people or place exists the philosophical implications of these are horrific.

  6. I suppose it can be useful, removed from context. The point of a lot of these “rotting utopia” stories is that the utopias ARE appealing. They’ve usually solved some important problem or other. The context, though, shows that a technology that’s useful in the sense of solving statistical, quantifiable problems in modern society is often terribly helpless at allowing quote-unquote “humanity” to survive the process intact. Which, in a net gain sense, doesn’t seem very useful after all.

    @Nick —

    Just to refine a point you’re making, the Nazis were using what was at the time fairly advanced technology/research stuff to carry out their agenda. Doing the same thing with more advanced technology and science only means you’re doing it “again.” But yeah.

  7. If you read this list in reverse,

    Use humans to power machines, isolating the mind.
    Remove human emotion.
    Have easily available replacement parts.
    Enhanced/Upgraded? humans.

    This sounds like a cyberman uprising!

    The pre-cog wouldn’t be necessary, cybermen don’t really have crime.

  8. @Paul,

    You should rewatch that scene of Ghost in the Shell where Kuzanagi explains why she recruited a “normal” human before praising Gattaca tech.

    Minority Report: crime isn’t eliminated, violent crime is, precogs don’t check on white collar crime so it’s mostly like NYPD checking mostly blacks and latinos. It has been justified by the authority but it still is controversial. Besides what about these 3 kids? It is ok to enslave three people to prevent x murders?

    Equilibrium: didn’t end war: just made absorbing propaganda easier by the population. Prozium= strong prozac…. maybe in small quantities for depressive it could be useful, but that would be the end of its use.

  9. what if the precog program was overhauled to make it voluntary? and it was made a regular government job with pay, benefits, vacation leave, pension, working hour limits, etc. that would fix the moral problem of kidnapping precogs and keeping them in slavery

  10. I’m going to have run with Paul is playing “devil’s advocate” here, because if you really believe some of this then you scare me dude. Playing “Devil’s Advocate” can be fun though.

    I will grant you the pre-cog system. The film did not present a good justification for dismantling the system entirely, although I still wouldn’t agree with it. It has been a long time since I saw the movie, but didn’t they make the case in the film that just because the pre-cogs said you would murder someone, it didn’t necessarily make them right, that you could still choose otherwise? Anyway, you could also drop the crime rate to zero or near zero by implementing curfews and martial law, doesn’t make it right.

  11. GREAT food for thought!

    The problem is who do you edit out?

    There was a section of Gattaca that was in the director’s cut that wasn’t in original that made a really good point.

    They started listing all the smart world changing people that were less then perfect, because “perfect” tends not to be creative, and creative is what moves the world forward.

    Most of our greatest thinkers had something fundamentally “wrong” with them. Einstein had aspersers and dyslexic, Stephen Hawking has motor neuron disease. There is strong evidence that indicates Leonardo da Vinci had dyslexica, and most likely dysgraphia too. (George Washington may have had an extra chromosome – XXY) John Nash was schizophrenic. There is also support for the theory Thomas Edison was dyslexic and maybe also adhd. And if you edit out gay you leave you people like Alan Turing. There are many many more!

    Besides, If they were so smart, why didn’t they work on fixing his heart? We are getting better and better at it now, you’re telling me 50 years in the future they couldn’t do anything about it?

    but I really do like the movie.

    1. lol okay maybe Gattaca was a bridge too far here. But it remains the most likely vision of the future we’ve seen on film in my opinion, for better or worse. Perhaps that’s why it’s the most fascinating/scary/whatever.

  12. I think your article is missing the point of Minority Report, although a few of the comments have touched on it.

    The pre-cogs didn’t WANT to be enslaved to do nothing but sit in a vat of water all day and predict/prevent murders. They couldn’t communicate this wish to anyone, because they were all drugged up constantly, and no one was interested in breaking the system in order to find out whether these three individuals were happy or not. The whole events of the movie were manipulated by the pre-cogs as a way to get them out of the water.

    And since the entire pre-science system was based on these three individuals, it would only have lasted as long as they lived anyway. I don’t recall them indicating that the pre-cog system could be expanded to other markets, or that there could be other pre-cogniscient individuals besides the three. Hence, the system breakdown was not a choice that was made but a consequence of the loss of the pre-cog triplet.

    As others have mentioned, most of these movies deal with the theme of scientific advancement being imposed upon society or individuals. Is it morally right to force people into a way of life for the ‘greater good’?

    Usually (at least in America) the answer depicted is not just NO, but “Aw hell no!”

  13. There are so many different things I disagree with that I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll knock “Gattaca” and “Equilibrium” out of the way on the basis that I’ve not seen either of these yet.

    “Minority Report:” apart from the slavery I’m going to hit upon in “The Matrix,” which is exactly what the pre-cogs were, you hit the nail on the head with both of the other reasons why the system needed to be dismantled. First, how reliable or trustworthy can a system be that can be manipulated or used to frame others/get people off of the hook? Second, where’s the justice for the innocent? Even if you manage to prove their innocence – something difficult to do when locked away in a coma – you’ve stolen one thing from them that they can never get back: Time. No amount of money will ever bring back the amount of time you could have been studying, working, improving the world, or living the life and raising a family. An innocent person in jail at least has the ability to prove said innocence, and a person out of jail can still choose to change their mind about said actions. Bring us the gesture computing and tech from the film; keep the pre-cog.

    “The Island:” To understand why it’s wrong, you also need to understand some of the (possible) reasons why the clones needed to be awake. First, some functions of the body require an alert brain to continue to grow normally. Second, you’d have to keep the muscles from atrophy, something a lot easier to do with living and alert people as opposed to the comatose. Third, and this is where the “Possible” comes in, they may have or, in a possible future, would have come up with a way to replace the brain, something that’d be far easier on an alert and functioning person than a comatose one. Given that you’ve already covered why doing this to awake clones is wrong, I need not go further.

    “The Matrix:” Let’s hit that slavery thing I mentioned earlier, since that’s a predominant theme of the series. The whole reason human beings became batteries for machine was because of how humans had treated artificial intelligence when it was first created, which paralleled our bigotted, racists actions towards real people even today. Furthermore, if you had seen the rest of the series, you’d also have seen why people were existing in “The Real World” and “The Matrix” to begin with, and why there was a war. (I’ll leave the debate of how good the rest of the series is to the rest of you – I’m not going to debate opinion, but I will step in to clarify continuity.) Enslavement to live in a dream-state where free-will and free-thought have no value as it was created by an artificial intelligence? Thanks but no thanks – it sounds fun to visit, but not to live.

  14. The island explained the organs by saying if not given consciousness the clones died. That wouldn’t be the case in real life. There is literally no reason for the clones to die.
    Gattaca – these enhanced genes would be passed down, so that after a few centuries, almost the entire population would be enhanced, with new enhancements coming faster and faster from these more brilliant enhanced minds.
    Minority report – dubious ethics about arresting people for something they haven’t yet done, but all the eye-registry identification would make committing murder and getting away with it practically impossible.

  15. In The Island, it explained how if they weren’t woken up and given consciousness the clones would mysteriously fade away and die. This wouldn’t happen in real life, people are in induced comas all the time.

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