Demolition Man: 1990s Pop Culture Vision of the Future, Realized

Posted by Deborah Matthews Phillips

Sep 27, 2017 12:15:00 PM

Theatrical marquee at dawn, downtown Aurora, Illinois-722718-edited.jpeg

Hollywood’s dystopian genre chills and thrills us by incorporating revolutionary technology into its vision of the future. The film industry at the turn of the 21th century produced several legendary examples, such as Minority Report, Blade Runner and Running Man.

One of my favorite films from this crop is Demolition Man, a cornucopia of 1993-era kitsch and knock-‘em-up action. In case you missed this one, here’s a plot summary: In the late ‘90s, southern California is engulfed in a crime war. Both Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), a despicable villain, and John Spartan (a wrongly convicted cop played by Sylvester Stallone), are incarcerated in ice in a CryoPrison, suspended in time. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic 2032, when Spartan is thawed out to recapture the evil Phoenix and awakes to a completely different world.

Despite the fact this movie was made almost 25 years ago, there are numerous examples where this movie “got it right” by accurately and seamlessly weaving futuristic technologies into the storyline.

1. Biometric identity verification 

In the film, the prison warden prepares to leave a secure areas where frozen prisoners are housed. He places his eye above a scanner to open a door.

The global biometrics market is projected to surpass $24.8 billion by 2021, fueled by growing security concerns, pervasive data breaches and recognition of the shortcomings of passwords.

Identity and access management represent a large portion of an FI’s security budget; in some cases as much as 30% or more. Biometrics is the tool most often cited by both banks (75%) and credit unions (83%) as a measure to bolster mobile payment security. Almost half of customers refuse to use mobile banking or payment apps that don’t have biometric authentication. According to Accenture, nearly 80% of customers would be willing to use biometrics if it meant tighter security. 

Apple’s recent unveiling of the iPhone X may address these concerns and mitigate existing barriers to digital wallet adoption.  The announcement highlighted the replacement of TouchID in the X model with an exciting new feature – FaceID. Users of this model will be able to access 3D facial recognition to unlock their phone and authenticate Apple Pay purchases. All of the data is stored locally on the phone. Apple claims is a huge leap forward in secure biometrics: 1 in 50,000 people are able to unlock an iPhone by having a similar fingerprint, but only 1 in 1,000,000 would be able to trick the FaceID.

With the launch of FaceID, Apple has left many questions unanswered. MacRumors reports, “All third-party apps that use TouchID will also be able to use FaceID.” Will the many financial services apps that rely on TouchID for security be required to upgrade their technology for the X version and communicate this transition to the X users? The legal implications of unlocking a phone with your face versus a PIN are unclear – civil liberty experts are debating this topic already. And what can we expect to see in the way of new products that might exploit the capabilities of FaceID, analyzing user emotions for commercial purposes?

Clarity around these issues and others remain to be seen, as is often the case with technological inflection points. Perhaps figuring out the answers and applying appropriate controls are a small price to pay in a landscape where it is becoming increasingly evident that stronger identity management and authentication methods are needed. 

2. Mobile and touch interface 

The movie featured both mobile and touchscreen technologies. The CryoPrison warden used a mobile tablet to review the inventory of frozen prisoners. In another scene, a police officer uses a mobile device to receive verbal step-by-step instructions (via a bot?) for confronting dastardly Simon Phoenix, who was on a rampage.

It may come as a surprise to some that Apple did not invent the touchscreen, although it did improve its utility and made it commercially available to a much wider audience. The tablet was actually patented in 1969; the first phone with a touchscreen was developed by IBM in 1992, possibly providing clues to the film’s creators.

Today, 78% of U.S. consumers have a smartphone and 55% own a tablet. According to Pew Research Center, more than 10% of American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users. Sixty five percent of all digital media is consumed on mobile devices.

Mobile payment functionality is the technology customers want most when connecting with brands. Americans buy digitally as often as we “take out the trash”: one-third buy at least once a week, and that number is expected to grow around 10% this year.  Forty five percent of all shopping journeys today contain an aspect of mobile engagement. For Millennials, this soars to 57%.

The digital lifestyle has indelibly changed the way we engage with our FI, too: About 2/3 of Americans cite digital as their primary method of banking; more than half say they use a mobile banking app. More than one-third check the app once a day or more, and almost 9 out of 10 access the app once a week or more. 

3. Autonomous connected cars 

General Motors provided the filmmakers with 20 carbon fiber models of their 100-miles-per-gallon Ultralite concept car. In the show, passengers operated sleek egg-shaped coupes automatically, giving voice commands to program their route.  (It’s worth noting that Total Recall, a 1990 Schwarzenegger film, also featured driverless vehicles.)

At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, more than 100 companies showcased the latest advancements in self-driving vehicles and connected driving. Experts expect 381 million connected cars will be on the road in 2021. Technology firms such as IBM, Mastercard and Visa are betting that not driving will mean more time to shop, dine and spend money while in a car.

Connected cars will usher in a new era of reduced friction in payments. Shell announced a partnership with Jaguar in February where 2018 models will feature a “Fill Up & Go” app that interacts with Shell gas pumps. Ford, VW and BMW are integrating Alexa into their models. Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicles, stated voice should be the primary interface with consumer devices.

4. Voice-controlled devices

Voice-controlled devices appeared in several places throughout the movie. Spartan discovers he can control his apartment lighting with a verbal command. Keyword-detecting devices, listening for profanity that violates the “verbal morality code,” spit out a ticket for the offender.

Today, Amazon’s Echo device similarly always listens in the background, waiting for a user to speak “Alexa” as the wake word.  Consumers are beginning to embrace voice-controlled virtual assistants like Echo and Google Home: 25% of consumers already own a device and an additional 20% are planning to buy one this year. VoiceLabs predicts there will be 33 million devices in circulation this year. Activities that previously were conducted on a smartphone are beginning to be managed with voice assistants. Nearly 20% of consumers made a purchase using a voice-controlled device – an impressive number for an early, emerging technology. The intent is even sharper for Millennials – almost 40% say they always or often shop with voice-controlled devices.

Experts claim the real value of voice-controlled devices will be realized by integration with third parties. The demand for financial services already exists - half of mobile banking users are interested in voice controls. One expert believes in the next 10 years, 50% of all banking interactions will occur through “voice first” devices. Financial institutions are responding by adding voice command capabilities to their services. Bank of America, Capital One and USAA have developed chatbots; Jack Henry’s iPay group is developing voice-enabled bill payment capabilities.

Noted playwright and author Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Considering how well Demolition Man leveraged yesterday’s emerging trends to create an image of today’s technology-based services, a peek into tomorrow may be as close as your neighborhood movie theater.

Topics: Tomorrow's Technology

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts


see all