It’s Throw Forward Thursday again, my name is Graeme Codrington, and welcome to the Future. This week, let’s have a look at a few of those science fiction movies that feel a little bit more real than we thought thought they should. Minority Report was one of Hollywood’s blockbuster movies that took a lot of time and a lot of effort to try and not just predict the future, but bring the future forward. When the team were putting the movie together, they hired people from MIT and other universities to actually put together a futuristic look and feel for computers.
The way in which the lead character, played by Tom Cruise, interacted with his computers at the time was something that didn’t exist in reality. And yet it was at MIT Labs that that 6th sense reality, which is what they called the project, began to emerge. And you can go and have a look at some Ted talks from back in the day when they were demonstrating what the technology that was used in the movie would look like. But that wasn’t the main part of the movie. That was just the look and feel of how you might interact with the screen.
And of course, now with iPads and smartphones and so on, we interact with those screens in that way on a daily basis. But the bigger issue was the ethical consideration in Minority Report, which talked about the use of personal data. And that’s what this episode of Throw Forward Thursday is about, when the devices around us, when the world around us becomes instrumented. In other words, there are a lot of data collection points in the world around us. That instrumentation is interconnected so that all the different parts of the world that are collecting data about us collate that data and form a picture of who we are.
It can then become intelligent and predictive. Data analytics is suggesting that it can predict what we might want to purchase, what we might want to do. Of course, a Minority Report that turned into a government Department called Precrime, which tried to predict the people who would commit crimes and stop those crimes, especially murder, stop them in advance. It’s an interesting premise and made for a very good movie. And of course, there was a shadowy side behind the people in power who were using that data for their own purposes.
But what happens if that becomes a reality? What happens if enough data is being collected around you that companies can use that data to predict what you might do and think and become in the future? One simple example, which I was introduced to a number of years ago, might help you to understand where things could go wrong with this, although there’s a lot that could go right. Of course, I was applying for one of those genetic tests that you can just send off for in the post. They send you a split vial, you fill it up with your spit, you send it back and you get some genetic information.
You get essentially get your DNA sequenced. This will allow you to connect with family members all around the world and to build a massive database of DNA and genetic information, all of which is fantastic. And it was really interesting to get information about the types of diseases that I am more prone to, to maybe some insight into how I should change my diet based on my DNA. All of that was hugely fantastic. But a friend of mine who thinks about this stuff deeply said to me, he said, Graham, when you send off your sample, you have the option of doing it anonymously.
And you should do that. When I asked him why, he explained the problem might be in a few years time, if your medical aid, if your healthcare provider is able to get access to that data, they might come back to you and say you had preexisting conditions, that you knew about the genetic data, that you have indicated that you would get cancer, that you would get dementia, or that you were at least more prone to Parkinson’s or whatever the case may be. And because you knew that and didn’t declare that to us, your insurance is now null and void. That is, of course, a huge reality of what could happen. And we know that within the insurance industry, there are many insurance companies who do their best to pay out the claims that are validly submitted to them.
There are many more insurance companies who will do everything they can to find a reason to not pay out your claim. And so there’s an example of a gathering of data of yourself that could be used against you in the future. So there were two movies I wanted to talk about in the Throw Forward Thursday edition. The second one is Gattica. Gattaker introduced us to Jude Law and Uma Thurman and a few other now Hollywood blockbuster superstars.
These were their first movies. And in the movie, the theme is about genetics, again, very similar to Minority Report qualification. And the best career that anybody could have in this movie was to become an astronaut. But astronauts were tested for their genetics. Well, everybody was tested for their genetics.
And if your genetics didn’t quite match up to the perfection required to be an astronaut, you weren’t even allowed into the programme.
And the key story of Gatika is how two brothers went for this genetic testing. The one brother was saying, you are good enough, you can become an astronaut. And the other one is told, your genetics are not good enough. And the movie is old enough. So spoilers, spoiler alert.
Coming up, the older brother whose genetics allowed him to become an astronaut had an accident and he became crippled. And so even though his genetics were capable, his body was incapable. The younger brother, whose genetics told him he couldn’t become an astronaut. They then swap genetic samples and the younger brother is able to get into the astronauts programme. And the story is of how your human spirit, how your willpower overcomes your genetics.
And it’s a fabulous look at maybe how our humanity is not determined by our data. How there is something in us as human beings willpower spirit that can’t be put into data, that can’t be put into our genetics. Minority report. Gattaca both movies worth watching. Maybe watching together to understand the limits of data collection in the future.
This has been a bit of a philosophical and artistic throw forward Thursday, but a reminder that in a world where data is the new oil and where data will be collected about us that we are not defined by our data, we are defined by our humanity. And in the future, we need to find the balance between those two things.
Throw forward Thursday sometimes science, sometimes prediction, sometimes art, sometimes philosophy, always, I hope, thought provoking as we look at what the future might be and how we need to be thinking about it today.
Join me next week for another trip into the future.
We’ll go back to the office next week and talk about some of the future of the workplace.
I’ll see you then.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.