That’s the year in which the action of the movie, Avatar, takes place, a year when a shipload of soldiers and scientists -- upstanding American types, all! -- wake from five-and-a-half years’ cryogenic sleep to study the planet Pandora and assist in mining a precious mineral, an effort that requires the literal uprooting of the indigenous humanoids.
My review: Avatar’s is a 19th-century universe filled with 21st-century characters and technology that we can distance ourselves from because, hey, the movie is set in the 22nd century! As futurism, Avatar lacks imagination. Given the movie’s reported $230 million production budget, I expected a more thoughtful look ahead.
So given this failure of imagination, I can predict that 2154’s information technology will look little like Avatar’s. Here’s how I don’t, and how I do, see 2154...
A role for science: That the Pandora mission seeks to mine “unobtainium” is just one bit of evidence that for Avatar, science is negligible, neglectable; the role of science is merely to lend atmosphere to the story. The movie’s conflict boils down to technology versus shamanism, with the story’s scientists relegated to powerless bystanders.
My own hopeful vision for 2154 -- and predictions that look that far ahead can be little more than visions -- is for a world where, boosted by information technology, science is central. Much of that science will be conducted in silicon, via computational modeling and simulation... well, probably using quantum computers or another substrate rather than silicon chips.
Conflict and communications: The year 2154’s military gets down and dirty with ground troops, manned airships, and short-range missiles. That's old school, even for today. We in the U.S. already rely extensively on remotely piloted reconnaissance and attack aircraft, and we have used pre-programmed cruise missiles for years. Far from projecting these stand-off combat technologies 144 years into the future, Avatar's yesterday-military prefers to sacrifice troops (as a plot device, of course) with the lame explanation that localized conditions scramble electronic communications.
It's not even a prediction to observe that today we already have robust, multi-modal communications and that high-tech forces increasingly operate at a distance to lower fighters' exposure to harm. This observation is beyond Avatar's non-visionaries, however.
Human-machine interfaces: Pandoran natives, both animals and plants, communicate and connect by, essentially, linking nervous systems. In Avatar, humans similarly but more extraordinarily connect to and control avatar bodies via a form of at-a-distance transfer of consciousness. (Put aside the philosophical duality problems I have touched on elsewhere.) Yet the movie’s man/machine interfaces are mechanical. There are heads-up graphical displays controlled via gestures -- just as your smartphone is -- but no hint of control of machinery via speech or eye movement, much less by thought or Six Million Dollar Man-style bionics, any or all of which could be the norm in 144 years.
Networks and connections: One Avatar notion inspired by computational science was intriguing, that Pandora’s trees -- of which there are a trillion, according to an Avatar scientist played by Sigourney Weaver, each with 10 thousand connections -- form a persistent, global memory (and consciousness?) net. Yet even this bit of fancy, which mirrors both human brain structure and Internet architecture, doesn’t apply to Avatar’s people. My last prediction, far beyond Avatar’s non-vision, is that today’s prevailing trend toward collaborative, collective organizing principles will only accelerate in the years ahead.
To close, try a thought experiment: Travel back 144 years, to 1866, a year when the U.S. turned from bloody civil war back to brutal westward expansion, in keeping, I would say, with European colonialism in Africa, Asia, and South America. Now, look forward from 1866 to the world of 2010. Do you envision conflicts fought on foot and horse with muzzle-loaded rifles and crude artillery, with mechanized transportation limited to steamships and railroads, and no electronic communications beyond a fancy variety of telegraph?
Yet this non-vision reflects Avatar’s wasted opportunity. A Jules Verne, Avatar film-maker James Cameron is not.
— Seth Grimesconsults, writes, and speaks internationally on business intelligence and text analytics.
It seems as though my point has been taken a tad too literally. The point I saw, if it's there at all, isn't about with what (per perhaps whom) we'll be networking, but how we network at a level of perspective.
For the Naavi, this kind of direct nerve-to-nerve networking was natural. They didn't talk to the creatures and to the trees. And I mean *that* word literally. Vocal communication. But the human avatar, he did. He had to vocalize the communications that Naavi natives did as naturally as we daydream.
As I recall, we even heard the avatar speak commands during the final battle.
I don't know that this is relevant. I just found it an intriguing point.
My dog and I communicate. Thing is, she doesn't care much about the past or the future, and doesn't think too far beyond her walks and food bowl.
Perhaps when the communication barriers are breached, humans will get a surprise: Nobody else shares their concerns with social networking, texting, VoIP, or the bottom line. We've created a Web --literally -- in which to entangle ourselves.
Come to think of it, are many of us forcing some of this Web onto others in the interest of what's "best for us"? I'm thinking of that small percentage of the population that refuses to use the Internet. Maybe their view is just as valid.
we are animals like any other in terms of evolution. the only difference seems to be that we have this self-aware, meta-cognition, social-ethical entanglement going on. the result? we think that we should be much better than we really are. and what we have achieved in terms of social consciousness in recorded history has nothing to do with evolution, it has everything to do with recordkeeping and enforcement. so to say that in the future 150 years from now, or 2-3 generations(depending on longevity improvements), we will be social-networking with trees, is completely absurd. fun, but not exactly realistic. after all our efforts, the best we can do with our nearest non-human "relatives" is a form of point-click/sign language. if I can talk to a tree in 150 years, i suppose i should be able to engage in philosophy with a chimp in, oh I don't know, lets say 25 years. so, my new goal in life, is to chat with some monkeys about the meaning of social consciousness. oh yeah, and after that, I will ride some dolphins after debating with them the ethical relevance of one species controlling another. but don't get me wrong, I am seriously curious to know how that maple tree in my yard sees things: like how do they deal with the frustration of not being able to keep the pesky deer from rubbing their bark off. oh the stories that little tree could tell.
BTW, I am insanely jealous of my buddy who saw avatar in the Imax. I will go see this movies as soon as I can. maybe my Ficus will come with me. get to see his buds on the big screen....
Okay, I haven't seen Avatar yet. But Robjvargas, your comment/question that "We NEED more than just a mental connection in order to interact. Do we?" got me thinking: Certainly, we need more than input from a few firing neurons to communicate and interact as humans.
The idea of digital communications is that they act as an interface, not some kind of organic extension of ourselves.
Hello Mashka. I'm restricting myself to predictions on points Avatar raised, but I will note that it's a bunch of botanists, led by Sigourney Weaver's character, who are expected to understand and interact and even teach (taking place before the movie's action starts) the aboriginal natives. There certainly is no place for social science or the humanities in Avatar's world.
As for the smoking, I'd have to point out that, even as is, the movie is well over 2 hours in length. I think it tried to do to Dances With Wolves what Star Trek did to Wagon Train. But with more characters than Dances provided on the "bad guy" side.
That's a lot of story threads to try to tie together visually. And I won't defend the choices they made. You do have valid points, as did Terry. But in return, I'd argue that the technology and the science was never integral to those choices.
I still enjoy watching the old Buster Crabbe Buck Rogers serials, even though you and I both know that there's no rocket smoke in space, nor would it "rise."
Getting picky about the tech and the science, and sociology, that's a good thing. But sometimes, I think, we lose something in always expecting that.
Sometimes. I'm not sure that's so here. But maybe.
Rob, regarding missing the forest for the trees --
Like Terry (another commenter), I was struck by Sigourney Weaver's character's smoking, not just in the laboratory but at all. Cameron has noted that she's supposed to be not a nice person, and I suppose having her smoke is one way of making that point. I find that it detracts from the character and draws attention from other aspects of the movie: it's a howler. I simply can't see a 2154 scientist, even a nasty one, smoking a cigarette.
So my response in the end is that the forest is made up of trees. If you mess up enough secondary points, you divert attention from the primary points. By doing that, Cameron diminished a very entertaining movie, and he didn't have to. He had the resources to get it right.
Kim, I didn't say people should have -- I'd write could, but we're talking science fiction -- neural connections, permanent or transient. I said that I predict intensification of the trend toward collaborative, collective organizing principles, contrary to Avatar, and I noted that while the Navi make neural connections, the humans in the movie don't even command their machinery that way, again something that we're staring to achieve now in the real world and that we'll certainly have in 2154.
It is fun that you and I both have blogs here about Avatar at the same time. As I indicated in my response to bauerb I do not agree with you that the lack of permanent connection between the humans is a defect in the movie. On the contrary it is the only thing that makes the movie work in my opinion. We are not talking the Borg here. Humans (and Navi) are not ready for true all the time collective consciousness. Soon we will have the ability to tap into a source of all human knowledge when we need it, but we will not be forced to experience that around the clock like an irritating din in our heads, we can chose whether or not we want to be connected, just like the Navi in the movie can.
The fact that connection was not continuous for the Navi in the Avatar movie, was what made moment of connection so dramatic, something commented on in my video blog. And therefore communication to rally the whole forest to repel the invaders took time. Privacy and individuality were maintained. And there is no connection during sleep, the whole movie plot depends on that. At the present stage of evolution of humans we need that.
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