Take Minority Report, for instance. In the film, technology is trumpeted as a savior: With the ability to foretell crime, police officers are able to save innocent people from dying. However, the obvious challenges to our constitutional law system are not only latent, they are openly discussed and debated in the work. The courts and legislature, for instance, have yet to decide on the viability of declaring "perpetrators" guilty simply because of the innocent-until-proven guilty tenets of our system.
Minority Report deals with the negative ramifications of the advances in technology with frightening bleakness. In society and on the media, we generally hear only about the positive advances in technology, especially information technology, but this film truly brings home the scarier aspects.
Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report takes place in the 2054 in Washington, DC. The Washington, DC Police Department has begun to incorporate technology to stop crimes before they happen. The work is done in the pre-crime division, and the purpose of the division is to use the precog (nitive) thinking of three genetically altered humans who float in a tank of fluid. The three precogs have a vision of a crime that's going to be committed in the future and they transmit the video imagery of the crime, the exact time it will happen and the future-perpetrator's identity to the DC pre-crime police force.
The police force then uses that info to arrest would-be perpetrators before they commit the crime. The would-be perpetrators are then put into holding, since no can figure out what to do with them legally: They have not committed a crime per se since they were stopped from doing so, so they cannot be found guilty. The people are going to vote on that issue in the near future.
In the mean time, the crime rate plummets because of the technology. John Anderton, the main character, loses his son to crime six years ago, and takes up a job with the pre-crime division, and works earnestly to get would-be-perpetrators off the streets. However, one day he too finds his name on the list of future perpetrators of crimes, accused of a murder of someone he does not know 36 hours in the future.
He flees, and is on the run from his own colleagues trying to prove his innocence from a crime he did not even know he would commit. He pursues a minority report - of the few occasions in which one of the three precogs disagrees with the others about a perpetrator's "guilt."
This scenario represents a legitimate threat regarding computer technology. With the advent of artificial technology, Dick forces us to ask at what point are we ceding agency over our own lives to computers and artificial technologies?
For instance, with the issue of cloning, we see today the deep division over whether "life" should and must be replicated in the interest of science. We have reached, at our point in history, a unique place. We are able to circumvent the idea of life through technology.
In Minority Report, the precogs and the pre-crime division call into question something that we hold closest to our hearts: we are innocent until proven guilty. However, if lives are at stake, should we not prevent those deaths even if it costs us our freedoms?
We see this same question today in the Patriot Act. We have hi-tech surveillance systems that may save us from another terrorist attack, but they impinge upon the constitutional rights of those being watched. it's the question that arises today more than in any other point in our history: Do we sacrifice our principles for quality of life?
What the pre-crime unit does, essentially, is convict solely on mens rea. Under criminal law both means rea (bad mental thought) and actus reus (a bad act) are required to convict. Here, we are eliminating one whole element. If I were to design the computer systems for the pre-crime division, I'd program in the requirement for at least some actus reus, however small. For instance, the pre-crime cops would not be able to stop a murder until at least the suspect reached for his gun to kill the supposed victim.
The idea here is to keep the quality of life improvements offered by the precogs in that fewer people will be murdered, while not letting technology run rampant in imprisoning those who've only had bad thoughts. We cannot stray into Brave New World…