minority report turns 20: the future of layered realities

The Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise sci-fi blockbuster Minority Report is turning 20 years old. It is amazing how it portrayed the future – umm, I mean the present – with such a high degree of accuracy.

The proliferation of digital screens in every conceivable format, spatial interactivity, pervasive data availability, augmented reality and more hit the nail right on the head. If you are old enough to remember the technology of that era (3.5″ floppy disks were still a big deal), none of this was necessarily obvious (outside of such think tanks like the MIT Media Lab, which is indeed where John Underkoffler, the primary science & technology advisor for the film, came from).

However, one of the biggest design concepts from the film has not yet been widely implemented: Layered realities. We now have digital screens in every possible physical format, including transparent see-through screens. And we see evermore use of projection mapping technology. And on the input side of the interface, we have cheap & powerful computer vision systems, an array of gestural interface technologies, plus good old physical interfaces and sensors aplenty. But I don’t think designers really understand the potential of layered realities – blending the physical world with the virtual world in various stages/phases of placemaking integration from IRL to XR to AR to VR. This is the true potential of the “metaverse” and one that will be explored across the next ten years.

CNN put together an interesting piece 5 years ago for the film’s 15th anniversary in which they speculate that Minority Report was such a compelling vision, that it actually drove the development of many of those technologies – a self-fulfilling prophesy.:

Although I believe strongly in the power of future envisioning, it is hard to know the impact of one movie. Was the artistic vision strong enough to drive real development? Or were the predictions simply an inevitable collusion of tech?