“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Words most often attributed to Spider-Man, these words have come to mind many times when I see certain movies or read certain novels.
You see, a storyteller does more than just entertain, even if that is their ultimate goal and nothing more. More-so if you are a story teller writing for a high-visibility medium such as major motion pictures. We inspire, we spark imagination, and we have the potential to shape the course of the future.
In fact, this is what makes science fiction such a popular genre. It’s a perfect platform in which to explore current-day social and political themes in a malleable future, and the very best ones do so without being obvious about it. Even Fantasy has this ability, as demonstrated by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit novels, or more recently, The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, which a recent article claims explored World War 2 and The Cold War respectively.
Most writers don’t even consider the potential impact they might have on a single reader, or many readers, or entire generations of readers. Through popular media, we can shape our very future, if ever so subtly.
Which is why I’ve been concerned about an upcoming major motion picture, Geostorm. However, in thinking further about it today, I’ve considered the possibility that my initial skeptical attitude towards the message itmight send may have been unwarranted…
Geostorm – Creating Fear of Technology
It’s nothing new – sci-fi has often portrayed how technology could potentially cause our society greater harm. Terminator is always the first example I think of, where an AI of our own creation overthrows humanity (a theme later revitalized by The Matrix, but there have been many more examples throughout the decades.)
Is AI something to be feared?
Is weather control technology something to be feared and avoided?
In Geostorm, the story revolves around global weather control technology that appears to go haywire and starts creating devastating storms all over the world. As the story progresses, they discover that a single person has actually intentionally programmed this malfunction, for some political or even perhaps personal gain.
As I watched the very first preview, my initial thought was “great, something that could actually be beneficial to humanity and the world, and now people will be afraid of it, and the invention and deployment of such technology will probably be delayed as a result over the course of the next century.”
Popular media is good at that – using worst-case scenarios and playing on the fears of people to draw them into the movies.
However, there’s another aspect to this kind of movie that I’ve suddenly become aware of…
Setting Expectations of Responsibility
With great power comes great responsibility. And lets face it, the ability to control the weather on a global scale would be an immense power. It potentially could give a single entity the ability to affect global policy at their whim.
“I want you to follow my political agenda,” this person might say.
“We don’t want to, it opposes our fundamental beliefs,” a world leader might reply.
“Very well. You’ll not see a single drop of rain until you accede to my demands. Or maybe even constant floods.”
It’s frightening to think about. But then, that’s why it’s important to have a system in place that does not permit a single entity to control such power.
And while some might see Geostorm as a story of why we should never ever invent weather control technology, others could see it as a cautionary story, one which suggests safety protocols must be made inherent to it.
The same can be said about Artificial Intelligence and any story that shows such an AI ruling or destroying humanity. If you give something the ability to destroy you, and give it reason to, then it most likely will. On the other hand, as Star Trek has explored many times, if you give something, such as an artificial life form, sentience…then how you treat it is as important as how you treat any others.
One of my favorite movies is the 2002 version of The Time Machine, and there is a line in the movie that I always strongly related to: “You’re a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?”
We as writers get to explore “What If” with every tale we tell. What if weather control technology became a reality? What if that technology was abused?
This is where our greatest power comes from. Because when we explore “what if,” so do our readers. And while we can write cautionary tales like The Terminator, we also have the power to write the opposite, like Star Trek. We can show people the consequences of “What if it goes wrong” but we can also show people the amazing future in store for us if it goes right, if we make it right.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading,