The Future According To 'Minority Report' May Be Now

Steven Spielberg's 2002 movie Minority Report was based on a futuristic vision of the year 2054. But we may be well ahead of schedule. Many of the spectacular advances we saw in the film are actually either in use now or are almost ready for the marketplace.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now sticking with the future or what it might look like, there was a film that came out a few years ago, "Minority Report." And it was a vision of the world in 2054, except some of the technology that was showcased in the film is closer to reality than even the filmmakers might have imagined.

Our producer Phil Harrell explains.

PHIL HARRELL: Here at NPR, I scan a lot of websites. And for a while there, I kept running into headlines that cited that movie over and over again. Okay, here we go. This is the Telegraph of London website: "Minority Report" Digital Billboard Watches Consumers Shop.

I remember that scene. Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, is walking through the Washington, D.C., subway system. And he's moving past all these advertisements on the walls, moving pictures. And they call out to him.

(Soundbite of movie, "Minority Report")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) John Anderton. You could use a Guinness right about now.

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) Get away, John Anderton.

HARRELL: I called Mike Zmuda with NEC. That's the company featured in that Telegraph story. And they may be close to that "Minority Report" model.

Mr. MIKE ZMUDA (Director, Business Development, NEC Display Solutions of America, Inc.): Well, I think we're close in some areas and probably never will get there in some other areas.

HARRELL: Where they're close is the marriage of the camera and the digital billboard.

Mr. ZMUDA: We have the capability of identifying people.

HARRELL: These monitors actually monitor you. They scan the crowd for demographic information.

Mr. ZMUDA: Today's technology, in general, can tell if you're a man or a woman, or your age group.

HARRELL: And the image on the screen changes according to who's looking at it. Is it a kid? Well, no need for a Budweiser ad. It changes to an ad for the latest Lady Gaga record. But don't expect these ads to call out to you specifically, the way they do with John Anderton.

Mr. ZMUDA: There's no easy way of being able to pull you out of a tremendous database and to (unintelligible) ads at you. The way the privacy issues are in the United States thankfully requires you to opt-in.

HARRELL: Back to the computer. Okay, here's another headline: "Minority Report" Technology Used By Police To Predict Crimes. In the movie, three people capable of seeing into the future can send their premonitions to a computer system that provides images to the pre-crime investigators.

(Soundbite of movie, "Minority Report")

Mr. NEAL McDONOUGH (Actor): (As Fletcher) We rarely see anything with premeditation anymore.

Mr. COLIN FARRELL (Actor): (As Danny Witwer) People have gotten the message.

HARRELL: And that's exactly how it happens in Memphis, Tennessee.

Mr. JOHN WILLIAMS (Crime Analysis Unit Manager, Memphis, Tennessee, Police Department): Phil, it doesn't work quite like that.

HARRELL: That's John F. Williams of the Memphis Crime Analysis Unit ruining my premise. Since 2006, the police there have been using predictive analytic software, something they call Blue CRUSH. They compiled years of data about crime in their city, everything from addresses and ages to times of day and weather patterns at the times of the offenses.

Mr. WILLIAMS: They plugged it into the system, they plugged it into our mapping software, and lo and behold, we were able to deploy our resources in that area at the specific times and locations in which the crimes were occurring.

HARRELL: And crime went down. Comparing January through July before Blue CRUSH and now...

Mr. WILLIAMS: Ten thousand, six hundred and twenty-eight fewer victims of crimes in the city of Memphis.

HARRELL: All from predicting where crimes might occur, not quite three psychics with wires plugged into their heads, but still pretty cool. The headlines don't stop. All right, here's another one: "Minority Report" Interface Is Real, Hitting Mainstream Soon.

That headline is referring to the computer interface Tom Cruise uses in the film, no mousepad here. In the movie, he's using special gloves, waving his hands at screens as big as walls. Point, and an item moves to the front. With a dismissive wave of the hand, the item is thrown to another screen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Minority Report")

Mr. McDONOUGH: (As Fletcher) All right, what he's doing now, we call scrubbing the image, looking for clues as to where the murder's going to happen.

HARRELL: John Underkoffler was a special adviser to director Steven Spielberg during the making of "Minority Report." He developed the idea for the film, but he's been working on making it a reality ever since. He showed off the latest version at the TED conference back in February. And Underkoffler says it might be ready for your house soon.

Mr. JOHN UNDERKOFFLER ("Minority Report" Science and Technology Adviser): I think in five years time, when you buy a computer, you'll get this.

HARRELL: All this advancement has made going back and re-watching "Minority Report" pretty fascinating. There are still a lot of outlandish ideas in the film, but maybe they're not as far off as we once thought.

(Soundbite of movie, "Minority Report")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Wire 'em up.

HARRELL: By the way, I've still got my fingers crossed for those jetpacks. It's 2010 already, science. We were promised jetpacks.

Phil Harrell, NPR News.

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