Tech to the Future

At Cannes this year audiences saw the preview of a short documentary film called Tech to the Future. It is the brainchild of Hollywood insider, Sandro Monetti, and entrepreneur, Francis Hellyer who also presents the show. It is a classic example of the wide-eyed optimism about technology that you very rarely see at science fiction conventions these days.

The film was showing in London this week, and I was offered a ticket. However, as I am out of the country I had to decline. The people showing it kindly sent me a link to an online version, so I took a look. Thank you, London Flair.

I’m not a great expert on movie-making, but it seemed beautifully put together. I am, however, a journalist of sorts, and what interests me about this film is what technology is coming down the pipeline, and what it means for us.

I should note to start with that science fiction has always been becoming science fact. From submarines and tanks to video phones, robots and computer viruses, much of what SF writers talked about has come to pass. On the other hand, time travel, invaders from Mars, logging in to the internet through direct brain implants and many other things have not. Technology marches on regardless. It is nice when some of the results are cool.

But, much like William Gibson’s future, those results are unevenly distributed. We’ve been talking about flying cars being a reality for some time now. I commissioned an article about such things for Clarkesworld back in 2009. The latest contender in the field was the star of Tech to the Future. The cars built by Aeromobil look absolutely beautiful. They also transform in around 3 minutes, which is very impressive. Sadly they don’t have a giant robot mode as well as the car and plane options, but maybe if they sell well the company will add one. The main point, however, is that the retail price will be in the millions of dollars. They will be way out of reach of the average car owner.

The products being developed by DeepCake are intended for Hollywood studios. That means that the whole world will get to benefit from them, because they’ll be used in movies. The technology seems very impressive. You do need a body double for your actor, but the DeepCake software can make that person look very much like the original. Bruce Willis is the only actor to have sold his likeness to the company thus far, but they can now make new Bruce Willis films without him going anywhere near a movie set.

There is presumably a downside here for young actors who will now forever be competing against past generations. The technology might also make the notoriously risk averse Hollywood moguls even less willing to invest in anything new. In 50 years time we might still be getting a new Die Hard movie every year. Still, at least it will be better than the zombie Luke we were treated to in season 2 of The Mandalorian.

The real problem with this technology, however, is acknowledged in the company name. Deep Cakes might be all very well, but Deep Fakes are potentially very dangerous. Social media already has a massive problem with misinformation. Deep fake software is already available for personal computers. In the future, political parties will run attack ads that feature faked images of their opponents saying and doing embarrassing, if not downright illegal, things. Fox News will show video “proof” of pedophile rings amongst Democratic politicians. That’s not the fault of DeepCake, whose tools may well transform movie making, but it is an inevitable result of this sort of technology being invented.

The third invention from the film that I want to highlight comes from a medical technology company called Cytovale. They make automated analysis machines that will allow hospitals to run routine tests for various conditions very quickly. The company is currently targeting diagnosis of sepsis, which is the cause of millions of deaths worldwide every year. Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment. If hospitals are able to test for it quickly and cheaply, then huge numbers of lives could be saved. That’s the sort of technology we should be really excited about.

Overall, Tech to the Future is a fun little film. It is good that people are out there reporting on what the current crop of tech geniuses are up to. But it would be good to see a little more critical analysis of what those developments might mean for humankind.