Technology is set to disrupt fun. Storylines in blockbuster movies may lose their relevance. We may even find that our enjoyment of sport, even sex, will go. What can we do?
The critics were not fans of the latest Jason Bourne film, but give it credit for one thing, it had a brilliant car chase scene. But then films and TV shows in which the initials of the main protagonist are JB, usually do. So that’s Jason Bourne, James Bond and Jack Bauer. Where would movies in that genre be without a car chase? But have you considered how the rise of autonomous cars will change things? For as long as we have both autonomous and people driven cars, Bond will still have a job, but autonomous cars will ultimately become so much safer that, within 15 years or so from now, it may become illegal for a new car not to be autonomous. Steering wheels will go, driving seats will be missing, James Bond will have to sit in the back, discussing the joys of artificial intelligence with Ethan Hunt, considering how missions are impossible to enjoy these days.
Then again, what will happen to Formula One? It’s not being suggested that racing cars will be autonomous too, but surely the whole point about Formula One is that you are seeing the very best drivers in the world when driving is something that around one billion of us do. If we are driven by computers, won’t it feel somehow slightly unattached from reality if we watch cars race around a track that have steering wheels and are driven by humans?
But that is just one example of how technology may steal Hollywood’s thunder.
Take films that involve finding things. The whole point about the Internet of Things is that we will know the exact whereabouts of things, people and just about anything. No need to go looking for that missing sock, or screwdriver, for they will come loaded with GPS chips, and your smart phone/smart watch will tell you where they are. But then if that happened, Nemo’s whereabouts would never have been a mystery, and there would never have been a need for Disney to make a film about finding him. Or Harry Potter could have just checked his smart-phone to find out where Voldemort had hidden his horcruxes.
Then there are bank heists. Central banks around the world are looking at the idea of replacing cash with electronic money. The Bank of England is a thought leader in this area. Its chief economist, Andrew Haldane, recently gave a speech in which he argued for the development of a form of electronic money that uses blockchain technology, that’s the same technology behind bitcoins, and gradually phase out physical cash altogether. One of the motivations for this is that if all cash is electronic, and thus has to be held in a bank, interest rates could be cut as low as central banks want, all the way to minus 10%, if that is so desired. McKinsey produced a report in which it argued that cash costs the US economy 0.47% of GDP in 2013, so a move to electronic money would immediately boost GDP around the world. Frankly, as smart phones, smart watches, even smart tattoos, become ever more ubiquitous, then the need for cash, when instead we can have electronic money, will go. But if that is so, what will that do to bank heist films or even movies involving the swapping of suit cases full of money, or even money laundering? From the Italian job to Breaking Bad, the central part of some of the most famous of all storylines will become obsolete. And I am sorry, a movie in which instead of robbing a bank of its cash, we see hackers typing really fast, and saying things like “I’m in”, are never the same.
Then there is romance. Harry and Sally would never have got together. Would Sleepless in Seattle remained sleepless? Instead, AI will combine with big data, and become ever more accomplished at finding our ideal partner. No need to date, blind dates will go the way of steering wheels and cash, the computer will know who our ideal partner is, it will be like arranged marriages, but this time the AI will know best.
Sport may get turned upside down too. It is only a matter of time before we all carry devices that augment us in some way – from brain chips and augmented reality improving our memory and giving us instant access to all the information in the world, to prosthetics, that can made us stronger and faster. Who wants to watch a man run the 100 metres is 9.58 seconds if we can run faster than any day we choose?
Even sex may go out of fashion, Dr Ian Pearson has suggested that by 2050 sex with robots may become more popular than sex with humans. He told the Daily Mail: “That when . . . machines do act in ways just like adults, where they can interact and talk in real-time, robots will become the perfect partners.”
I don’t know about you, but I am tempted to say I prefer the world as it is, with all its foibles and imperfections. So maybe if we do find ourselves living in a world in which the machine makes all the fun things obsolete, we could always resort to virtual reality, and live in a simulation instead, with imperfections and human limitations programmed into the algorithm that defines this matrix.
It is just that some, such as Nick Bostrom, say that this has already happened, so if we do indeed choose the Matrix solution as the real world has become too safe, we may, in fact, be living in a simulation of a simulation. But at least in our VR world, we may get to become James Bond and drive an Aston Martin.