Saturday, November 30, 2019

Improbable Tech in Entertainment

Suspending Disbelief

Here’s a topic I’m betting many of my technology-industry friends can relate to. As techies, we have a reasonably strong sense of the state of the art when it comes to tech portrayed in popular culture and entertainment. In my own case, I understand certain online communications, networked multimedia delivery, encryption, and geolocation well enough to know when television and the movies use these technologies in ways that strain credulity.

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When it comes to a superhero movie like Iron Man or Aquaman, or a sci-fi space adventure like Star Wars, it’s easy. We all know that we check our sense of reality at the door. These movies are taking place in an alternate reality in which technologies like flying suits, magic tridents, and light-sabers (“a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age”) exist. With Star Wars we accept light-sabers and death stars easily. After all, the stories are taking place in a galaxy far, far away and maybe they have different physics and different tech. But in television dramas like the CSI shows or The Blacklist, which seem to take place in our real world with no aliens or super heroes, some of the use of technologies can be jarring.

In CSI (Crime Scene Investigations), we see some incredible things happen with technology that can strain our sense of what’s actually possible. Characters use their technologies to assemble and correlate data and present it in 3D visual interfaces in seconds, bringing absolute clarity and rock-solid conclusions. In a favorite TV show of mine, The Blacklist, FBI agents work wonders like intercepting communications that use encryption of unknown origin and break that encryption in seconds (while some timer counts down to zero). The communicating endpoints are identified down to the room number when the right supporting character is present in the FBI command center, and that character then brings up a full 3D rendering of the buildings involved to show us where the people involved are standing.

While I recognize that government agencies almost certainly have technologies that I haven’t heard of, to the best of my understanding the things described above are not realistic. The state of the art wouldn’t really allow that, but because I love these high drama shows and movies that provide me with some enjoyment through escapism I’m entirely okay with it. I suspend disbelief and enjoy it, and maybe even appreciate that while these things may not be practical or even possible in 2019, maybe they will seem more realistic in the future. Maybe pop culture tech will continue to be a window into our future, the way Star Trek communicators, tablet computers, and voice commands inspired real technologies for years to come.

Either way, I’m personally happy to take my television and movies with a healthy dose of improbable technology. For me it actually enhances the entertainment value rather than prompting me to complain about a lack of authenticity. How about you? Do you prefer your pop-culture tech to be very real or do you like some alternate reality escapism like I do?

Leave a comment and let us know. 

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