Thursday, August 24, 2006

Calling The Future

Have you ever seen the movie Minority Report? It's set in a slightly futuristic world, where people walking around town are greeted by billboards, by name, and asked by the store they just entered how they like the shirts they bought last week--not asked by the store clerk, but by the store, or a voice emanating from within the store, anyway. It creeped me out when I saw the movie; no anonymity at all. Everywhere people went in the world of Minority Report, there were invisible scanners watching their every move, connecting to advertisements that then tried to sell specifically to them. Eventually this universal recognition became a problem in the movie, as the powers-that-be (read cops) were also tracking our hero (Tom Cruise), as he went through the inevitable hero-based trauma that we expect from the movies. They were recognizing him by means of optical scanners, so eventually he had to swap eyes with someone. Headed right on down to Eye-Mart and bought himself a fresh pair. Walked around for quite a bit of the movie with the old pair in a plastic baggie. Yuck.

We're a few years from this whole scenario, right? (I personally do not relish the thought of having a vending machine address me personally and suggest that I try something new today, since the computer chip inside it thinks I'm stuck in a snack rut.) Well, yes we're a few years out, and no we're not. We are probably not headed immediately toward instant recognition and sales pitch based on optical scan, but we are coming close with other technology. I read today about new tech that's finding its way into cell phones so that they will do more than just be your camera, and phone, and PDA, as if that wasn't enough. Now they are adding the capacity for the phones to be a sort of transmitting electronic credit card and information retrieval system. You step on a bus, swipe the phone near a reader, and voila, you've paid your fair. You see a movie poster that interests you, swipe the phone nearby, and poof, you've downloaded the trailer. Want to pay for your purchases at the mall? No problem, this particular mall is set up to let you pay by phone--just enter your pin so they'll know it's you. The key to this little miracle is little tiny radio transmitters in the phone that communicate with other tech toys coming soon to buses, stores and movie posters near you. Can anyone tell the difference between technology and magic anymore?

Pretty soon you're just going to be able to leave your wallet at home, as long as you've got the all important phone there with you. Keys will probably become obsolete soon too. We'll just plug in a code for entry. The downside, of course, is if you're forgetful. All those functions in one little item make that item awfully crucial to keep handy. You can't just go leaving the phone on the table when you walk out the door. This then leads to the next inevitable phase--we're going to have to have the components implanted, once they make them small enough to implant without causing unsightly bulges. Of course, this takes us back to where we were in the beginning with Minority Report, and the logic of using eye-dent scans. Science fiction is just getting so hard to write these days, at least the fiction part of it. These things dreamed up in the imagination keep coming true.

Hat tip: Futurismic