Hollywood has produced some classic (and questionable) films focusing on technology, ranging from identity theft, dismantling government networks and futuristic smart buildings.
But just how realistic is this environment?
With significant advancements in technology, BYOD in the workplace and smart buildings we decided to take a nostalgic look at a selection of cult technology films of the 80's and 90’s and see if it really is as easy to crack a system mainframe, download a ‘network’ or use a voice activated elevator?
’A Nice Game of Chess’ – War Games 1983
In 1983, Matthew Broderick unwittingly hacked into a military supercomputer, while searching for a new video game and begins what he believes to be a game. Unaware at first that he has unwittingly made the first move in World War III, and if he doesn't beat the computer the world will suffer untold nuclear destruction. He was able to do all of this from his bedroom in middle America using a dial up modem and 90-pound desktop computer. Although the technology used in this film is now truly outdated, the concept is very much alive.
Condeo UK Head of Professional Services, John Hilderbrands shares his views on the latest intelligence, technologies and best practices to ensure a workplace can be cyber-ready:
War Games explores two astonishingly relevant topics in the technology sphere today, hacking and AI. David (Matthew Broderick) easily hacks into a “secure” government advanced computer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) by randomly dialling numbers and using an acoustic coupler (early version of modems) it shows us that even since 1983 to as recent as November 28th, 2017 governments have been improperly securing their systems leaving them open to the public domain.
The second topic, AI, is one we are all familiar with. Will it make our lives better? Will it make the workforce redundant and cause mass unemployment? Will the machines rise up and destroy us all leaving only an underground rebel force? Or will we all sit around in recliners eating Bonbon’s while the machines do all the work and casually ask us in the words of WOPR “Do you want to play a game?”
“It’s not about who has the most bullets, it’s about who controls the information” - Sneakers (1992)
Computer hacker Martin (Robert Redford) heads a group of specialists who test the security of various San Francisco companies. Martin is approached by two National Security Agency officers who ask him to steal a newly invented decoder. Though much of the technology looks hopelessly dated, motion sensors, voice activation, dial up modems, we think the film is spot-on with its prediction of how a computer-connected world would change the nature of how we work in the future.
John explained to us the advances in workplace technology over the last 20 years:
In 1997, a laptop cost $4,000k, a PC cost $2,000k investment for the home and for business there was still many people operating on paper based, dot matrix and command line systems. The late 90’s was the advent of the powerful GUI based OS windows 95 which was released in August 1995 and it was a leap forward from 3.1.
Business primarily ran on backend CLI (command line interfaces). Email was a predominant force and the internet was in full swing but it is not like the office and technology landscape we now see in 2018. The biggest difference that will shock most of gen Z is mobile use. WAP (early mobile internet) didn’t exist until 1999 with the 7110, this means no emails on your phone, no snapchat or WhatsApp. If you wanted email you logged into a PC, opened a browser, started a program and logged in. Today everything is mobile, bandwidths and networks can handle video in 4k and we can chat “face to face” across the office or anywhere in the world. Computers are mobile in 2018 and so is the workforce!
‘Where can I plug in my Modem’ - The Net (1995)
In 1995, Sandra Bullock has her identity stolen. Of course, this is Hollywood so there are some far-fetched ideas thrown in for good measure but we do live in a connected world, so stealing an identity is a reality. Her identity is stolen by the evil villain from a chat room and he then searches her ‘online files’. To viewers in 1995, this was a huge shock to know all your personal information is accessible online, today we call it Big Data. Sandra eventually gets her real identity back through the use of a massive laptop, floppy disk, dial up modem and downloading the entire firms network onto a floppy disk, all before the evil villain turns up.
We asked John, Big Data: How much is too much?
Data is a commodity in 2018. Companies pay for it, trade it and you, as a user share it in exchange for goods and services. The difference between 1995 and 2018 is that we now give this data over willingly, and more of it than ever before. The amount of data that Facebook and Google know about an individual is astounding. For example the recent Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data breach, resulted in 87 million profiles being extracted from the platform.
Industry insiders say that due to cross website tracking among other things (yes, 80 per cent of popular websites have both Google and Facebook tracking cookies in them) advertisements powered by this information can predict the want or need of things before the target actually knows what they themselves might want.
Of course, the level of data companies has on a user is up for scrutiny and thanks to the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) you have rights to demand to have access to it. However, it is what companies do with data and the algorithms they use to create the “object” that is you extracted from that data which we have no visibility. This is the “digital you” and the algorithms and logic that build your digital self are proprietary and completely hidden from you.
Is there too much Big Data? Well does that really matter, or is it what is done with that data behind closed, unregulated doors that is the concern? Is it fair that a digital construct of you is created and decisions are made based upon this without your visibility into the logic that created it? Many believe it isn’t, and in a world where the digital you is as much a part of you as the physical self how is that acceptable?
“The Clamp Centre is the most advanced "smart building" in America, with the latest, in security, communications, and climate control.” - Gremlins 2 – The New Batch (1990)
Most of us remember the cult film from the 1990’s, cute little Gizmo, who when wet spawns numerous little monsters who wreak havoc through a small town. Gremlins 2 is set in a New York Skyscraper, which is a fully automated building, equipped with voice activated elevators. There is also a building management ‘nerve centre’, controlling oxygen levels, heating, lighting, elevator movement and plenty of spy-cameras to watch and talk to un-expecting employees in big brother style.
The Clamp Centre is an open-plan design, full of ergonomic furniture, voice activated water coolers and unseen speakers which pipe in ‘White-Noise’. On the desks, employees are equipment with their very own video phone and wear scanable ID bar codes.
We asked John what he thought of this futuristic office and how much of it could relate to a modern workplace.
The Clamp Centre is not far off smart buildings of today. In 2018, we have mobile app controlled flexible workspaces which automate the lighting and temperatures based on use and user preference. Voice has not taken as much of a part in the office as they predicted in the 1990’s, most likely due to the human density of an office space that does not lend itself to clear audio commands. But the biggest thing all the 90’s movie profits missed was mobile.
Nobody thought people would use their phones to control their home, their workspace and entertainment. I remember using a cooked ROM HTC Hermes to watch family guy AVI’s and tether my PC to the internet in 2006 (almost a year before the iPhone) and people thinking I was silly and it would never catch on. Now the mobile is the centre of our interaction with the real and technology world, in the office or at home.
Will voice take over, I am not convinced but if AI becomes predictive enough it can ask you questions and predict what you want maybe the everyday phone type form factor will change. Until we can control stuff with our minds that is.
Thank you to John Hilderbrands for his contribution to this article.