6 times anime has predicted our dystopian techno-future (2024)

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Tech bros have unveiled a ‘prison of the future’ that looks like something straight out of Sword Art Online –here’s six anime to watch next

TextSolomon Pace-McCarrick

Imagine a future in which individuals are locked inside AI-generated VR pods where time moves quicker than the real world. No, this isn’t the plot of sci-fi anime Sword Art Online, but the actual future, according to tech bro Hashem Al-Ghaili.

The project,unveiled on June 26, is titled ‘Cognify’ and serves as a potential replacement for prisons, forcing criminals to repeatedly replay their crimes from the victims’ perspective in order to trigger guilt and, apparently, rehabilitation. Al-Ghaili claims that the technology could speed up jail time from years to a matter of minutes, but the premise feels very dystopian.

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There are also stark parallels to the 2018 anime Sword Art Online, which features gaming pods that generate a fantastical MMORPG world at the expense of IRL death for players who lose. Also the Tsukuyomi technique from series Naruto, where the technology is used by the character Itachi Uchiha to force his younger brother to rewatch the murder of their entire family and make him stronger. Unsurprisingly, both of these anime tales warn of the negative consequences related to, um, beaming vivid traumatic events directly into the brain of another person. While it‘s unlikely that Al-Ghaili is a fan of either show, he’s taken to Instagram to defend the project as a “fantastic technology that can help create a society free of crimes”.

That said, Sword Art Online and Naruto aren’t the only series to inadvertently anticipate the dystopian techno-future we seem to be living in. Here are six other times anime to be proven right.

This 2013 series imagines a world where people undergo brain scans in order to assess their potential to commit a crime, which is then recorded in a personal ‘Psycho-Pass’ issued to each citizen. Once their Crime Coefficient index exceeds 100, regardless of whether a crime has been committed yet, police are dispatched to either apprehend or outright kill the individual.

Not even a decade later, the real-world followed suit with an algorithm trialled in eight US cities in 2022 that was able to predict crimes occurring up to a week in advance with 90 per cent accuracy. Unsurprisingly, the trial also revealed biases within the American police force, being more likely to dedicate resources to wealthier areas than poorer ones.

Elon Musk isn’t the first person to come up with the idea for a brain chip that reads your mind. Anime did that first, too, and also warned of its potential to go very wrong. InGhost in the Shell, theprotagonist Major Kusanagi is a cyborg whose brain was reconstructed after a tragic accident with the help of cybernetic technology. Her superhuman cyber-brain bestows extraordinary combat skills and the ability to dive into the digital realm, but also crucially makes her vulnerable to hackers (take note, Elon).

Seminal 1988 anime film Akira is widely recognised for popularising the bike slide trope, as well as revolutionising the cyberpunk genre. But it also successfully predicted that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympic Games over 30 years in advance. Set in the then-distant year 2019, the film’s climax features unhinged protagonist Tetsuo taking over the construction site for the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, as signs advertise the city’s hosting of the Games in the background. In 2020, the real-life 2020 Olympic Games were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though sadly no reports of Tetsuo on the ground.

Preceding Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Satoshi Kon’s Paprika envisions a colourful yet haunting future in which technology allows people to view and even interact with others’ dreams. Initially used for therapy, things take a turn for the worst when a so-called ‘dream terrorist’ gets a hold of the equipment and causes reality and the dream world to begin to merge.

Earlier this year, Dazed spoke to Eric Wollberg, creator of new lucid dreaming start-up Prophetic AI and whose vision errs eerily close to Paprika’s fictional technology. Wollberg’s new Halo device is a non-invasive headband which allows users to record their dreams and even mould them at will. With Wollberg’s proposed implementations including social media and therapy, it’s not hard to see the parallels with Paprika’s cautionary tale.

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Released in 1998, Serial Experiments Lain is a cyberpunk classic that takes place in a virtual world called the Wired, which bears an eerie resemblance to today’s internet. It follows the titular Lain, a 14-year-old girl who becomes obsessed with computers after she receives an email from a dead classmate who tells her that she did not commit suicide but has merely “abandoned her physical self” in place of the virtual realm.

One of the first instances of the internet depicted in popular culture (The Matrix came out the following year), Lain’s mind-bending depiction of a virtual realm, where people can upload their consciousness online, might have seemed dystopian upon its release. But nearly 25 years on, the anime has taken on new meaning for a generation of zoomers, whose terminally online lives aren’t too dissimilar from that of the Wired.

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Emerging in the midst of post-war Japan’s rapid industrial development and economic growth, the mecha genre of anime looked forward to a world where robots were bigger and cooler than ever. Stretching back to OG 70s series Neon Genesis and Gundam, mecha is one of anime’s core genres – and archetypes.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and killer robots are now increasingly used in conflicts around the world. Unfortunately, the reality isn’t quite as cool as fiction – it’s actually quite horrifying. As AI technology becomes increasingly advanced, the last few years have seen a widespread proliferation of automated militarised drones, allowing wars to be fought remotely, but also deadlier than ever before. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared that “whoever becomes the leader in [AI] will become the ruler of the world”.

6 times anime has predicted our dystopian techno-future (2024)

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