PREDICTION OF THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY......THROUGH SCIENCE FICTION

We watched two science fiction movies, "The Time Machine" and "Blade Runner," in order to look at how science fiction writers have attempted to predict the social impact of technology. Below are notes from our discussion of these two films
 

The Time Machine

"The Time Machine" was made in 1960 and based on H.G. Wellsís 1895 book of the same name. 

Scenario: The film describes how a British inventor, George, created a "time machine." With the machine, he was able to travel from his time period (year 1899) to the future (year 802,701). In that period, humans (called Eloi) had become passive fodder for cave dwelling cannibals (Morlocks). The film holds a pessimistic view that
technology, instead of facilitating a better life for human beings, may destroy human civilization by means of war and therefore return humans back to a primitive situation.  There is no government or law in this future dystopia. Human beings are passive and not interested in acquiring knowledge, lack self-motivation and critical capability, and show indifference to each other. 

Do past visions of future information technologies have come true? 
 

  • The film imagines a fourth dimension (virtual space) outside the three dimensions we are living in. With the time machine, people are able to surpass the limit of time. Presently, we do have a fourth dimension (virtual space). It is cyberspace. The virtual space in the real world, however, enables human being to transcend the spatial limit. 
  • Information Storage: In the film, "talking rings" passed on knowledge Books were nonexistent as forms of information storage. Human beings donít even remember how to spell. It implies that machines will replace the role of print in accumulating knowledge. We do have a machine with the function like "talking ring" such as electronic media; but it is too early to determine whether that electronic machine will replace or supplement print. 
  • According to the film, the groups with knowledge control the power. This seems true in a closed political system such as communist or authoritarian regimes. The ruling class strengthens their power by means of suppressing dissenting viewpoints. In an open system such as the capitalist system, knowledge can be used to make money. 
  • Desensitization: In the film, while the girl, Weena, almost drowns to death, no one even tries to save her life. It was a terrifying signal of desensitization brought about by technology. A good example of desensitization in our world is the downturn in political participation and decrease in election turnout. However, tribalism enthusiasm may increase in the information age at the same time. We can see more and more protesting groups or subgroups occurring in our society. As some scholars argue, the two forces of integration and disintegration exist simultaneously in the world. 
  • At the end of the movie, George goes back to 1899 for a few hours and then decides to go "back to the future" to help the Eloi "rebuild" their society. The only things he takes with him are three books from the bookshelf. What three books would you take with you if you wanted to construct a new society? 
Here are some links to a few sites about H.G. Wells: 

          http://www.crystalinks.com/wells.html 

          http://www.bath.ac.uk/~lisjpo/wellsian.html 

          http://members.tripod.com/~gwillick/wells_hg.html

Blade Runner

Based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this 1982 film follows a rugged detective on a mission to track down and retire (eliminate) four replicants (i.e. genetically engineered humans of superior strength and intelligence) in Los Angeles in 2019. The film is woven along two axes: the relationships between western culture and eastern culture as well as the relationship between human beings and replicants.
 

  • Western Culture vs. Eastern Culture
The city of Los Angeles in  2019 is portrayed by the film as full of eastern culture. According to the film, eastern culture is going to be internalized into western culture naturally in the future. Therefore people no longer feel it as "exotic" and there is no confrontation between these two cultures. It implies that two-way information flow is going to take place in the future system. 

Instead of a reciprocal model, the information flow in current world system appears to be one-way flow, typically from the western countries to the nonwestern countries. It fosters a trend of globalization, which is a synonym of westernization.

There seems to have some clues of two-way information flow in the global system. For example, pizza is a kind of popular food in the western society. People enjoyed this food without noticing that it originated from a kind of Chinese food called "cong-you-cake" in  ancient China. The recipe of "cong-you-cake" was brought to  western society by an Italian explorer who visited the ancient China in the Yuan Dynasty. However, through the hands of market, cultural sense is no longer embedded in this product.
 

  • Human Being vs. Replicants
The film predicts that technology is able to produce artificial creations and reproduce human beings. It is ironic that human being in the future don't trust "real people" but rely on the artificial creations. It is illustrated by a man's words: "They ( the artificial dolls) are my best friends."  It seems that the human nature of human beings is going to vanish with the revolution of technology.

The replicants in the film are portrayed as diabolical. It implies that technology is able to reproduce the human species but is not able to reproduce human nature. Thus, replicants threaten the security of human being and human beings try their best to "retire" (terminate) them. Therefore the relationship between replicants and human beings is nervous. 

In the film, while the male replicant sees the body of his companion who is killed by the human detective, he shows a sense of sympathy that he is not supposed to have. Is this sense of sorrow teaching him something of humanity and human life?  And this is why he saves the life of the detective who killed his companions (or we can say "friend" at this moment) and try to kill him as well. 

Is a Replicant a Human Being? The theme of the film is that technology may reproduce the world, but it may not reproduce the humanity. The meanings of human being cannot be interpreted without the contextual settings in terms of history, culture and society. The film upholds a respect toward lives. If the replicant realize the significance of life, they can be viewed as human being and their lives are worth of respecting for sure. Human being can't justified their slaughter toward replicants any more.


Last modified: 15 December 1999
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