Minority Report: why is it such a good example for teaching students about augmented reality?

There is a point in my teaching where I introduce aspects of augmented reality to students studying storytelling for multiple platforms. This is not just an opportunity to share with students one of my obsessions, science fiction, the good old fashioned stuff, in particular those films inspired by the writing of Philip K Dick. Spielberg’s take on one of Dick’s short stories, Minority Report, was written in 1956 and turned into a blockbuster movie in 2002, starring Tom Cruise as detective John Anderton.

The central concept is a fascinating one, that of precogs being able to predict when a murder is going to take place, giving detective Anderton the opportunity, on behalf of the specialised police department “Precrime” , to intervene and stop these crimes taking place. And, giving rise to all sorts of philosophical and conceptual issue around precognition and its impact on the world around us. What if crimes could be detected before they happen? What would this mean? Could crime be eradicated altogether?

I use clips from Minority Report and other similar science fiction films, such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and others, to show students some of the characteristics of augmented reality and how many different types of media technology has infiltrated our experience of the world around us. The thing is the fiction in these films, especially those inspired by Dick’s writings are not that far fetched.

In Minority Report are many scenes in the film where you can see Tom Cruise and others using gesture based interfaces with all sorts of rich media flying around in mid-air. Much of the technology implied in these scenes have pretty much become a reality, part of what is now being called “augmented reality” actually.

But what might the world look like of this kind of technology were ubiquitous. It’s funny that word “ubiquitous” reminds me of another Philip K. Dick story UBIK. There hangs a tail. Just to put that into context. I will be writing a number of pieces for The Conversation about how I use films, such as, Minority Report, in my teaching. The thing is, I try t avoid actually defining terms like “augmented reality”. Instead I will try to find good examples, ways in which the technology has been exemplified.

Another aspect of the creation of Minority Report that’s really interesting is the fact that prior to Spielberg going into production a “think tank” was set up that consisted of scientists, technologists and futurologist who, over a week end were given the task of imagining what technologies would be available and in general use. They speculated about what the world would look like in just a few years time, the near future.

This is something that returns us to the original stories that were written by Philip K. Dick. Stories, like Minority Report that I loved so much as a teenager. The near future is so interesting and so close to us, that the dystopian image that Dick gave t us feels so real, so possible. |And, as is the case with the aspects of augmented reality that were speculation when the film was made 9n (year) have now become a reality. But this is the point really. So much Science Fiction isn’t really fiction because it it so often so close to reality and what is just around the corner.

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