If the world is made of narratives, the best way to forecast our future is to understand which stories are influencing our thinking and technological imagination. By looking at outstanding pieces of sci-fi we present a comparative analysis that showcase the connection between fictional technologies and current scientific research.
Released in May 2018, the game Detroit: Become Human has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. After 5 years in the making and a development budget reaching millions, it achieved 1 million copies sold after two weeks of its release. Gaming has become an industry bigger than Hollywood, shaping our imagination in the same way as other traditional media has been doing for centuries.
The game brings a visualization of the year 2038, when the United States have changed its whole system after the release of realistic androids that not only perfectly resemble humans in their appearance, but also in their minds and abilities. As a cheaper and more efficient labor that needs no rest, no food and no rights, androids have become the ultimate solution for an economy that, on the other hand, is collapsing with massive unemployment and public health issues.
In the same way a player from Detroit: Become Human is able to decide, or at least try to conduct the future, there are tons of possibilities on how humanity can deal with debates around automatization of labor, A.I legislation and machine's consciousness. A good way to start this type of debate is to experience these future possibilities in engaging narratives such as the ones posed in this game.
The player can choose between hundreds of possibilities and decide how to deal with this interactive story full of contemporary controversies around technology.
The game brings the possibility of androids to become sentient, a classic speculation explored in science fiction but an increasingly relevant topic in current scientific research, as artificial intelligence is developed and technological limits are surpassed simultaneously to the public debate on the ethics of such technology. What would be the impact of such achievement? What changes and challenges would we face as a society?
As current technology already points to the possibility of automation of 45% of our activities, it is the perspective of a massive unemployment that leads today’s discussions on the future of work, a theme developed in the game. But beyond the exploration of the android as a cheaper and more efficient workforce, it is the social and emotional implications of such beings (now conscious) that pose the most intriguing questions that could anticipate actual moral debates in AI: how would we deal with machines being recognized as intelligent life forms rather than tools?
By looking at the future created inside the game, we can have a glimpse on how our imagination is shaping reality and which technologies are emerging in our society.
Envisioning's research team and a selection of curated specialists in sci-fi and futurism carefully dissected the game and found 63 technologies, accessing each of them using NASA's Technology Readiness Level (TRL). By matching sci-fi subjects with patents, academic sources and scientific magazines, we were able to understand the intersection between the imaginative with scientific fact and evaluate the maturity of these technologies on a scale from 1 (the lowest level of technology maturation) to 9 (technology is already being fixed and incorporated into new systems).
Our interactive visualization allows you to navigate between technologies, understanding the current state and its parallel with the movie counterpart. Their position on their map reflects their level of readiness.
From the alchemical figure of the Homunculus to the mechanical automatas of the Modern era, it is the human desire to manipulate and create life with the available technology that has been influencing science fiction since its first narrative, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). As cybernetics developed throughout the 20th century, we experienced a turning point in history that leaded us to a Third Industrial Revolution orchestrated by the internet. Now, in the 21st century, we watch the rise of a Fourth Industrial Revolution as robotics, nanotechnology and bioengineering lead us to another dramatic change, one that already made us start to re-evaluate our role as humans and what it ultimately means to be human as new forms of non-organic life begin to populate our physical and digital worlds.It is part of our zeitgeist, or the "spirit of our time", to dwell in fantasies of an artificial intelligence that is able to think as we think. Many modern scientists and technologists from Tesla's Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking are worried about the possibility of our ability to produce a superintelligence that could surpass greater than us all as we unlock machine learning techniques.
It is easy to comprehend that the game underwent massive research in order to develop the technologies that dwell on 2038's Detroit. Some tech showcased in the game such as autonomous cars or police drones are already known to the public, but other speculative possibilities such as scene reconstruction scanners or "android skin" are also shown to open up our minds to a world where our machines demand recognition of their freedom.
While we still strive to understand our brains and what it ultimately means to be conscious or where does consciousness reside, Detroit takes the big leap of speculative fiction in order to make us reflect about a technological future that, on the other hand, still carries controversies and issues that we face now, both in the technical and social spheres. By turning androids into metaphorical representations of current minorities, the game explores the consequences of extending and reproducing the same questionable behaviors we have today.
Our visualization invites humanity to think about the technologies that we are dreaming about much like the game has sparked discussions by guiding the player in its interactive narrative.
Check our visualization to find out the maturity of the technologies presented in the game and how they connect to the current state of scientific research. We hope that by looking at the intersection of science and fantasy we are able to construct a more desirable future.
Envisioning is a virtual research institute. We provide technological foresight to policy and decision makers worldwide. Our global team of academics, hackers and designers study technology to understand accelerating change. We share our work with our own tools, methodology and design. › envisioning.io