(CNN) Great science fiction movies are both imaginative and prescient. They can transport viewers to a galaxy far, far away or exaggerate real scenarios on a fictional version of our planet.
The genre is at its best when it holds a “fun house mirror back to our present” and reveals something about the world we live in, said Lisa Yaszyk, professor of science fiction studies at Georgia Institute of Technology.
As fans, we love science fiction, both optimistic and pessimistic I like these movies precisely because they are virtual laboratories where we can imaginatively experiment with our best and worst technology in a safe and fun environment.”
Movies like “Gattaca”, “Her” and even a comedy horror movie M3GAN predicted what our future might look like if advances in gene editing and artificial intelligence accelerated. Meanwhile, pandemic thrillers like “Contagion” feel more real than when they were released after Covid-19 dramatically upended the world in 2020.
Here’s what some of the notable films about science and technology get up to – and what’s still the stuff of science fiction.
Gene editing in “Gattaca” is now closer to reality
Yaszek said that “Gattaca” drew inspiration from the real events leading up to its 1997 release—including the launch of the Human Genome Project in 1990 and the successful cloning of the sheep Dolly—and imagines a society obsessed with and dictating genetic perfection. It seems to “eerily anticipate our current society’s fascination with at-home genetic tests like 23andMe,” Yaszek noted, as well as recent advances in gene editing that hold promise for human health.
In the movie, genes determine social class. Genetic modification has become the norm, and characters born without it are considered “in-valids” with a greater likelihood of developing genetic disorders than “valids”, humans genetically engineered to avoid those diseases. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), an “invalid” cleaner at a space facility, uses genetic material such as nails and urine from paraplegic former Olympian Jerome Moreau (Jude Law) to fraudulently join an interplanetary mission intended for the “Valids”.
Gattaca emerged 15 years before the introduction of CRISPR-Cas9 as a tool used to make precise modifications to human DNA. Although it’s mostly used for research purposes, CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been shown to make a remarkable difference in treating genetic disorders: A woman named Victoria Gray said her sickle cell disease symptoms were greatly alleviated after scientists treated her with CRISPR technology, she reported. CNN in March. Scientists removed early cells from Gray’s bone marrow and modified them. The genetically modified cells, which returned to Gray’s body, apparently produced fetal hemoglobin, a type of hemoglobin that makes it difficult for the cells to attach to the sickle.
Current gene therapy trials — including the sickle cell trial that Gray was a part of — involve altering non-reproductive cells in what is known as somatic gene editing.
But the process of preemptively manipulating the genes of human sperm, eggs, or embryos in a way that evokes “Gattaca” — called genetic editing — has raised serious ethical concerns. In 2018, Chinese doctor He Jiankui said he had modified two human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9 technology and that the modifications would make them resistant to HIV. His work was quickly condemned by the scientific community, and he was sentenced to three years in prison in 2019.
‘M3GAN’ and ‘Her’ offer opposing views on artificial intelligence
Society’s fascination with artificial intelligence has led to no shortage of movies that depict its potential to facilitate a more advanced way of life and the hypothetical horror of artificial intelligence outwitting humanity.
“These films tend to reflect our hopes and fears about our growing reliance on digital companions,” Yaszek said.
In Spike Jonze’s “She”, Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore falls in love with Samantha, an advanced AI that he says restores his feelings. Siri, isn’t: Samantha speaks with human influence and has opinions and feelings, or at least they’re programmed to. It’s the rare sci-fi movie that doesn’t offend an artificial intelligence capable of simulating – or even genuinely feeling – human emotions.
Samantha doesn’t yet have a perfect equivalent in our world — she can even see the physical world through a lens and comment on it, but there are some real-life AI-powered virtual assistants out there. Popular chatbots Like ChatGPT it can closely mimic human speech and has been used to write extensive articles and answer complex questions asked by users, although it is not perfect. Technology company CNET has published several AI-generated articles that contained significant errors. Artificial intelligence experts told CNN this year that they fear chatbots are being used to perpetuate disinformation because they are programmed to give users more of what they are looking for and their attention.
While its AI is “Her,” the 2022 horror movie “M3GAN” tapped into viewers’ fears. M3GAN is a humanoid puppet who is responsible for taking care of a young girl, Cady, who loses her parents in a car accident, and the two form a sisterly bond. But M3GAN She takes her duties as the android’s older sister very seriously, killing anyone who threatens Cade or Cade’s trust in her.
Yaszek noted that robot caregivers are already in use: Nursing homes in Japan have for years used robots to entertain and engage residents. Studies of whether the quality of elderly care has improved in the country are still underway, but several senior care facilities in Minnesota last year took a cue from Japan and began incorporating robots built by University of Minnesota Duluth experts into residents’ care routines.
There are autonomous robots serving food, performing stunts at Disney’s California Adventure, and disposing of bombs on behalf of police departments. Trading robots are nowhere near as real as M3GAN. Shelly Palmer, a professor of advanced media at Syracuse University and an expert in emerging technology, said her AI capabilities — known as artificial general intelligence, which describes a robot’s ability to learn anything a human can learn — are getting closer to reality. Interview with CNN in January.
“We may be grateful for these tools but we are also a little worried,” Yasiq said. “What happens if these wonderful new technologies collapse and leave our loved ones more vulnerable than ever before?
The pandemic preparedness in the “Contagion” episodes is correct
During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, many took refuge in Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” a 2011 film depicting the astonishingly rapid spread of a deadly virus across the world. Upon its release, the scenario in which the world could change drastically in a matter of days or weeks seemed unlikely. But when the Covid-19 virus sent much of society into isolation in 2020, “Contagion” seemed like an obvious example of what a pandemic response could look like.
Even before Covid-19, experts at Argonne National Laboratory, which is run by the US Department of Energy, lauded the film in 2012 for accurately depicting the rate at which society would experience a shortage of resources and the collective effort it would take to quickly address a problem. The virus is spreading.
Kelly McGuire, Associate Professor of English at Trent University in Ontario, He wrote in 2021 that “Contagion” presents vaccine development as “the end point of the pandemic arc,” when in our Covid-19 reality, the virus may never be eradicated despite the widespread availability of Covid-19 vaccines and reinforcement.
Although a Covid-19 vaccine prevented more than 3 million deaths, according to a 2022 study, hundreds of thousands of Americans still contract the virus and thousands die each month, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunocompromised people who have not received the vaccine remain at increased risk of serious illness and death.
Reality has often pushed the boundaries of science fiction, said Melissa Monique Littlefield, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who teaches courses on science fiction and speculative fiction. Even when our reality feels stranger than fiction, stories like “Gattaca,” “M3GAN,” and “Contagion” still have something valuable to say about the world we live in and where it might be headed.
“(Science fiction) does not predict or just comment on scientific discoveries or technological phenomena,” she said. “Instead, it provides us with the opportunity to continually evaluate ourselves, our communities, and our assumptions about the world.”