When you belong to a writing group the challenge is to write about something suggested or chosen by others; sometimes it is a title, sometimes it is an idea of something, sometimes it suggests a story, sometimes it suggests a more factual piece… so this month…

Ten impossible (or not) things

In my last teaching post I worked with young people being educated out of the normal school system. These students were aged fifteen to sixteen and in their last year of statutory education but were out of “normal” schools for a variety of reasons – violence, alcohol and drug abuse, unacceptable behaviours of various kinds, truancy. They had one year to try and turn their lives round, follow a curriculum and sit public exams.

I taught English, history and citizenship. When I started there was no actual citizenship course and no-one really knew what it was – I guess I just drew the short straw. These were very difficult and challenging young people and were not really very inclined to discuss the usual things on a citizenship curriculum… as the Department of Education guidance says:

citizenship education should foster pupils’ keen awareness and understanding of democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld… and equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments…. And prepare pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens….

You can imagine, if I had walked into the classroom with this on my mind, the language which would be used in response and the potential for books, chairs and other items to be thrown… It was an impossible task.

I decided that a way to introduce the themes and subjects we needed to talk about would be through film, and one of the films I chose was Minority Report which is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. The film is set in the near future where crime is ‘managed’ by predicting when it will take place; this is not done by a computer but by using three genetically mutated humans known as the Pre-Cogs because they have precognition – i.e psychic abilities. The film raises a lot of issues about policing, about the justice system and guilt, about government control and surveillance… and many other subjects which are actually within the D.O.E. citizenship guidelines!

As the film is set in the future there is a wonderful and inventive amount of futuristic  technology used. When the film was made in 2002, much of it seemed impossible. However, fifteen years later much of the ‘impossible’ is not only feasible, but is actually with us, sometimes chillingly so, frighteningly so.

In fact, looking through these futuristic fictional functions, there are ten ‘impossible’ things seen in the film.

  1. hands-free – speech-recognition /voice-to-text/ Bluetooth headsets/ hands-free car kits (HFCK)/ personal navigation devices (PND) – this is common now
  2. driverless cars – autonomous cars – before long these will be properly trialled and be used on raids around the world
  3. personalised ads – this is already very common on social media
  4. voice-controlled homes – smart homes – washing machines, ovens, lights switched on remotely, central heating operated, security monitored – all commonplace in modern homes
  5. facial recognition/ dynamic iris recognition – airport security uses this
  6. gesture-based computing – motion-sensing technologies which respond to natural movements already being used for computer games
  7. predictive policing – it’s already with us – the use of mathematical, predictive and analytical techniques in law enforcement to identify potential criminal activity- (i) predicting crimes (ii)  predicting offenders (iii) predicting perpetrators’ identities (iv) predicting victims of crime
  8. e-paper – many of us have kindles and other e-readers
  9. spider robots – already devolved in certain fields e.g. a robot named Andrew is a novel liquid handler that enhances the reproducibility and the efficiency of a laboratory –  it assists scientists with fully unattended automated pipetting.
  10. 3D video –we can watch these at home or in cinemas – three-dimensional stereoscopic film (also known as three-dimensional film, 3D film or S3D film)  –  motion pictures that enhance the illusion of depth perception, thus adding a third dimension – usually  derived from stereoscopic photography.

… and as bonus here are some more ‘impossible’ things:

  1. Sick sticks – there has been an experimental strobing non-lethal weapon produced, the LED Incapacitator, inaccurately known as the vomit beam. In fact, it would make subjects nauseous but there was no record of anyone actually vomiting.
  2. Holograms – look at the £5 note in your wallet!!
  3. Surveillance… CCTV is all around us!

As a postscript… I was in a home store the other day and a smart young man called my name… he was an ex-student who I had last seen being dragged ranting and screaming out of school by several police officers. He was later detained in a secure mental health facility.

Now Nicky, as I shall call him had a job, looked happy and well and was very pleased to see me. We reminisced about the happier times he had been with us, and then he mentioned citizenship…

“That was the best film I ever saw… what was it… oh yeah, Minority Report!”

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