Everybody loves dystopias nowadays — especially dystopias where the evil overlords have crazy unstoppable gear. But a shockingly high number of dystopian futures feature technology that makes no sense, that no engineer would ever design that way. Here are 7 dystopian technologies that could never actually happen.
7. Replicants that look exactly like humans
I think Ray Bradbury pointed out very nicely how dangerous it is to make robots that look like humans — in all those stories in which robots kill humans and replace them and no one is the wiser. But no one seems to have gotten the message. Making robots look human is a great way to represent man's inhumanity to man, or the topsy-turvy world we create when we can't tell artificial life from real life, but it's terrible technology.
The most egregious example of this is Blade Runner, which has a good reason why artificial beings and humans shouldn't look alike built right into the premise. It's utterly ridiculous that battle and mining replicants would look exactly like humans. They have specialized tasks, that could easily be done with different bodies.
But even sex bots, which we also see in AI, shouldn't look human. If there's anything that the internet has proved, it's that no one wants a human woman when they can have a Sailor Scout or Cheetara from Thundercats. All that delicate crafting of faces and eyes to make a robot look exactly human, and for what? A big headache, and nothing else.
6. Massive surveillance networks
The first time I ran up against the idea of massive dystopian surveillance networks was in the novel 1984. Winston has to do his morning exercises in front of the camera — and as a hater of gym class, I found that chilling. As a hater of gym class, though, I knew exactly how much one could get away with slacking off, without anyone noticing, and that was in class with a teacher who knows your name and has only about thirty students. I couldn't help thinking, "Who watches all of these? And who watches the people who watch them?" Now I wonder who maintains them. Who archives recordings. I know that the idea of cameras isn't to guarantee that people will get caught. Their presence is actually meant to give people a constant fear of being watched, which was the point of books like 1984, but every time I see the suggestion of massive surveillance systems, all I can think of is the even more massive and hopelessly tangled human bureaucracy that would cripple any attempt at universal surveillance.
5. Easily coverable distinguishing marks
Whenever I see Logan's Run on television, I always look at the hand crystal and think, "You know what would clear that up? A coat of paint and an LED light." It's the same when I see tattoos that are supposed to mark someone for life. This takes us back to the problem of cataloging and tracking all that information — but also, any mark that one organization can make, another organization can duplicate. Anything can be faked. Any dystopian regime would be expending a massive amount of money to catch only the dumbest and most unconnected of criminals (or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view), whom they would probably have been able to get anyway. Why bother?
4. Zombie plagues
Dystopian regimes or evil corporations sometimes create zombie plagues and other crazy diseases, on purpose. As a weapon. The problem is, they would make the worst weapon imaginable. No disease that turns the land you want to conquer into a seething mass of unkillable zombies is a good weapon. Even diseases just meant to kill the enemy are no good. Sure, things like smallpox and tuberculosis have been used as weapons in the past, but they were used by societies that had already been ravaged by them. Creating a plague to devastate your enemies only really works if you use it to devastate yourselves for hundreds of years first. That's no way to win a war.
3. Survival shows that use prisoners as gladiators
Another staple of the dystopian genre is condemned prisoners being forced to battle each other, gladiator-style. Generally this happens on television, and, surprise surprise, people wind up rallying behind the larger-than-life characters having dramatic battles on the screen. It's almost like the evil regime is using its near-unlimited resources to find someone charismatic who supports a popular cause, make them a household name, and then put them in a situation in which they seem exciting, important, and inherently sympathetic. Might not actually be the best move, on further consideration.
2. Genetically engineered children
There are many films about how one day there will be two groups of people: those who can have their children genetically engineered and those who can't. It's possible that certain genetic diseases could be weeded out by genetic engineering, or genetic selection, but it's been asserted, over and over again, by reputable biologists, that making a super child simply won't work. Even if we know and can control all possible genes, there are still too many factors that control how a kid turns out. Just once I'd like to see a movie in which a group of children are engineered, everyone awaits the reorganization of society by these masses of superchildren . . . and they turn out to be no different from any other kids. Or even slightly damaged.
1. Using Humans as an Energy Source
I've seen plenty of critiques of The Matrix from a pure thermodynamics point of view. There's just no way that you can get more energy out of a human than the energy you put into that human. You can't get more energy out of anything than you put into it. That's not the problem. The problem is, if in the Matrix universe you can get energy out of living beings, why they hell would you use humans? If you can harvest energy efficiently from biological organisms, use insects. If you need to use mammals, use rabbits, or naked mole rats. Why use the one thing that requires the absolute maximum amount of energy to create a fake world for, and that can use that fake world to destroy you?