Minor spoilers for Minority Report, Psycho-Pass and Captain America 2
Imagine a world where homicide rates have been reduced by ninety-percent, a world where Precrime Unit arrests criminals before they even commit a crime. Enter the world of Minority Report, a 2002 science fiction film loosely based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick. In the movie, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) leads the Washington D.C. Precrime Unit, a police department that apprehends future murderers with the foresight of three psychics named “pre-cogs.” It is a phenomenal thriller and despite being well over a decade old, Fox Network recently confirmed the pilot of the Minority Report television series, and this raises a big question: What do Minority Report and other recent films and television shows have to say about their future systems of crime prediction? Head below the break for Minority Report: Crime and Human Nature.
Fortunately, the three pieces we are putting under the microscope sport “protagonist vs. technology” conflicts in which the systems go horribly wrong, either by defects in the human element or simply by design. Take Minority Report: It is revealed that the “pre-cogs” sometimes have disagreements or leave essential details out of crime prediction which quickly get covered up, hence the name Minority Report. It is not that difficult to see how such a discrepancy would be fatal to a system that accuses and prosecutes to-be murderers. And as if that was not the worst of it, the Precrime program fails often due to human error: the final nail in the coffin for the “sure fire” Precrime system.
However, Minority Report moves away from the faults in the “pre-cogs” to turn to a conspiracy behind the creator of Precrime. This does bring us to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a 2014 summer blockbuster featuring advanced weaponry and international government conspiracies (because those two always go well together). For the of few of you haven't seen it, Captain America 2 revolves around the launch of three high-tech, weaponized airships designed to spot and destroy international threats before the targets even spot them; however, there is a deep rooted evil behind the algorithm that recognizes potential threats.
Fact is, the system fell into the hands of human desire: The desire for forceful control over others with the use of fear and supremacy; eerily similar to Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four, where a totalitarian surveillance-focused government keeps an iron grip on the populace using fear and censorship.
But what about programs free of human discrepancy or ill-intent? The 2012 hit anime Psycho-Pass gives us such a utopia. Psycho-Pass takes place in a future society where the Sibyl System monitors the public's “psycho-pass,” constantly analyzing potential crime threats and dispatching the Public Safety Bureau to bring in “latent criminals.” How does it do this? Using a complex network of street scanners that pick up individual’s “psycho-pass” or mental state, it is able to predict an individual's likelihood for violence. Sibyl does differ from the Precrime and Captain America's S.H.I.E.L.D., however, in the fact that it addresses human error and actively works to equip MWPSB officers to fight crime. Instead, Psycho-Pass the television series focuses more on the exception: “asymptomatic criminals,” criminals that don't trigger a psycho-pass scanner and are in a stable mind-set when committing crimes. Panic quickly overtakes the general public, a public that is used to a world without horrific crimes, when an asymptomatic criminal brings the once thought invincible Sibyl to its knees.
Although Psycho-Pass, Minority Report and Captain America 2 approach the topic of punishment before the crime from radically different views, they all convey a simple theme. Each of their “futuristic” systems are fundamentally flawed. Perhaps they are too idealistic or have evil intentions or have exceptions that easily break them. No matter what it is, it appears no amount of technology can get rid of the human element. That the feelings and impulses that drive someone to illegality, what is at the core of every human, cannot be perfectly controlled by a human system. Which begs the question: Is crime really an irreversible problem at the core of every society?
Afternote: It's worth noting that Psycho-Pass' and Captain America's futuristic crime prevention strategies aren't all that far-fetched. In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department recently unveiled its Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division in June of 2014. Using computer analytic technology and pattern-recognition, LAPD has been able to predict crimes before they even happen. Sound familiar? Fortunately, the program has met real success. Crime rates in the Los Angeles Area have decreased by 50% since its deployment. However, it works off of a pattern-recognition algorithm meaning that there are isolated incidents that go unpredicted. In addition, the program is already raising concerns over “unlawful searches of innocent people”. It goes without saying that the program has an uncertain future. (Source: Guardian Liberty Voice)