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Was Life-Changing Technology Incited by Wiseman’s Total Recall?

Original article posted on N2 Technology, on April 23rd, 2021.

Sometimes life can be boring and slightly monotonous, leaving us fantasising about escape. Oftentimes, that envisionment comes in the form of imagined paradisiacal beaches, driving an expensive, fast car - or in the case of Len Wiseman’s Douglas Quaid (Total Recall’s fictional character played by Colin Farrell): a fantasy of being a spy, leading to the ultimate espionage adventure.

In the 2012 adaptation of the film, Total Recall, factory worker Quaid decides to embark on a virtual vacation provided by a technology called ‘Reckall’. The premise is somewhat straightforward: a technician performs a memory implantation procedure via an injectable serum that simulates realistic experiences.

Set at the end of the 21st century where, after chemical warfare, the remainder of the planet is devastated, dividing Earth into two territories: the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony (formerly Australia). Many residents of The Colony travel to the UFB for work via a gravity elevator called 'The Fall' that propels through the Earth and great speed.

Besides gravity-defying transportation, three key technological themes run predominantly throughout the film, which - only nine years on - are either being utilised today or are exceedingly close to mainstream production. We take a look at these key themes:

Memory Implantation

In the film, Rekall offers memory implantation for enjoyment. It’s the ultimate daydream because, after all, if you think you travelled to the moon, that’s surely the same as actually doing it? Based on the notion that remembrances of past events are malleable and only 50 per cent correct, performing the implantation of false memories is not entirely unfathomable. With a moderate success rate, cognitive psychology can make people believe that they remember an event that never actually happened.

However, science has taken this a step further: Apple executive and Siri co-founder, Tom Gruber, claims that memory implants are “inevitable” via the use of artificial intelligence. He believes that computers could eventually reinforce existing human capacity for memory. Elon Musk has also seconded this idea through his ‘telepathy startup’, Neuralink., which focuses on developing neural lace technology. This would mean that thoughts from neurons would be transferrable to computers or mobile devices through the use of tiny brain electrodes - wherever you are. Facebook has also hinted at similar technology that aims to assist people with disabilities, allowing them to type with their brain and hear with their skin.

Read more: The Big AI Con: Are You Really AI?

More than escaping reality for entertainment, memory implantation has the potential to treat Parkinson’s, PTSD, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and depression by altering memories and the emotional response to painful recollections. Forms of neuroprosthetics have been around since the 1950s, such as cochlear and retinal implants. However, further research conducted on electrical pulses deeper in the brain has incited substantial developments in brain implant therapies - particularly for people paralysed from spinal cord injury and other neurological damage. One solution presents in the form of a chip in the brain that reads electrical signals. These signals then get translated by a computer to restore some movement and communication to the patient, however, there are some significant challenges to overcome, such as refining the hardware and ensuring all implants are non-toxic, biocompatible and implanted less invasively.

Arguably, our memories are essential to our sense of identity. Through the narrative of personal experiences, we learn from our interactions with the world, and our memories help guide our behaviours. In 2019, Scientific American reported that an artificial memory was successfully created in laboratory animals by reverse-engineering a specific natural memory. This was made possible via mapping the brain circuits underlying its formation and then ‘training’ another animal by stimulating the brain cells in the same pattern of the natural memory. By doing this, an artificial memory was created, retained and recalled in an indistinguishable manner from the original, natural memory.

These findings revealed that by emulating specific circuits in the brain, memories can be separated from the narrative and formed in complete absence of the real experience - further proving that brain circuits can be artificially stimulated, linked together and elicited by appropriate sensory cues in the real environment. This research gives insight into the fundamental understanding of how memories form in the brain and part of burgeoning memory manipulation science - including the transfer, prosthetic enhancement and erasure of memory.

Read more: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Spielberg’s Minority Report

Smart Cities

Whilst Wiseman depicts a multi-level, futuristic envisionment for tomorrow’s cities, in practicality, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Components of smart cities have been around for decades, but the conceptual tag began in the late 1990s. Whilst still in flux, the generalised term for a smart city refers to the use of digital and ICT-based innovation to improve the efficiency of urban services and generate new economic opportunities, which proves imperative as 54% of people worldwide reside in cities - with a predicted rise to 66% by 2050.

There’s no singular portrayal of a smart city as the intrinsic drivers differ depending on the city’s geo, socio and economic requirements. There are, however, five essential technologies needed to achieve connected cities that provide better services, communication and are potential areas for investment and innovation for entrepreneurs:

  • Smart energy - for both residential and commercial buildings. The purpose is to spend and use less energy and money with a significant focus on sustainable transmission of energy.

  • Smart transportation & mobility - supporting multi-modal transportation, building smart traffic lights and parking via sensors, intelligence systems and vehicle-sharing alternatives.

  • Smart data - massive amounts of data collected must be analysed quickly to be useful, and by making it publicly accessible, third parties can develop technology that betters human living and well-being.

  • Smart infrastructure - clean, real-time data analytics allows for proactive maintenance and better planning for future demand - also aiding in the prevention of public health issues and making meaningful changes.

  • Smart IoT devices - by fusing sensors and actuators into our daily lives and integrating with third-party networks, we will “knit the fabric of society together,” says Carl Piva, VP of strategic programmes at TM Forum.

Smart cities of today

Oslo frequently features in global smart city lists. With a particular focus on addressing climate change, the Norwegian capital has embraced the wide use of sensors to control energy consumption of lighting, heating and cooling, as well as developing electric vehicles, a smart grid, and EV-charging technology. There are already 2000 charging stations for electric vehicles, and owners are exempt from sales tax and are entitled to free parting, charging and transport on ferries.

Read more: The Impending Disruption From Autonomous Vehicles

In New York, the Government has focussed on providing universal broadband and digital services, promoting inclusive innovation, and prioritising tech and society. In 2012, the New York Department of Transportation’s ‘Midtown in Motion’ strategy reported an improvement in travel times in Midtown by 10% - achieved by implementing a ‘smart’ congestion management system that uses wireless technology to respond to real-time traffic conditions. Automated water meters also came to fruition via small devices connected to individual water meters, sending daily reading to computerised billing systems. And finally, created for entrepreneurs, technologists and tech professionals, The NYCx Challenge invites members to participate in open competitions and propose bold ideas that solve real urban needs. From issues such as pollution, income inequality and transport, such professionals look at ways to improve the way New Yorkers live, support a thriving economy and create good-paying jobs.

Read more: How To Build A Start-Up: Finding The Right Investors

In Amsterdam, navigating the city is a breeze due to the opening of data vaults. By sharing traffic and transportation data with interested parties such as developers, mapping apps connected to the city's transportation systems have become available - making residents lives more straightforward and boosting productivity. Additionally, to address the increasing overcrowding problem, the city supported the 'floating village of houses' initiative, which generated power within communities and provided water straight from the river - offering sustainable, energy-efficient alternatives.

Read more: Why N2 Partnered With One Tree Planted

Implantable Mobile Phones

The cybernetic hand-implanted mobile phone featured in the film was both intriguing and frightening. To conduct the video call, Quaid rests his hand on a piece of glass to see the recipient. Besides indicating that all windows of the future will be ‘smart glass’, the chip he eventually cuts out of his hand suggests that implantable devices will also be the norm.

Transhumanism is not new, but the technology granting utilisation is perhaps reinforcing the agenda. Winter Mraz, an advocate for implantable technology, explains that she has multiple micro-chips in her body that act as her keys, business card and medical information. She also wants to invest in two LED implants that light up when she passes a magnet for entertainment. She believes that she is improving her physical and mental limitations by upgrading her body through incorporating technology. Ms Mraz endured her first “cyber-enhancement” after a serious car crash that led her to fracture her back, both her ankles and knees. The subsequent procedures she underwent involved surgeons “bolting her spine back together” and one of her kneecaps replaced with a 3D-printed version on the NHS; "if it was not for my cybernetic kneecap, I would not be able to walk," she said. After her accident, she then moved into voluntary personal modifications, claiming that “not altering your body is a very ableist way of living. People who are disabled don’t have that choice. It is made for us.”

Whilst implantable technology feels somewhat unreachable for now, in reality - particularly in the medical fields - wearable devices are cutting costs and saving lives. As healthcare prices rise and populations continue to age, patients are getting sicker and increasingly suffering from chronic diseases. Technology can provide preventative and responsive care, enabling the patient control and freedom to enjoy life again:

  • Miniature monitoring devices that connect to smartphones can sense the parameters of various diseases, transfer data and direct a patient to take a specific action or automatically perform a function based on sensor readings.

  • Diabetic patients can monitor their blood glucose and administer insulin themselves. Cardiac outpatients who experience arrhythmias can be notified and perhaps be advised to implant a pacemaker for pulse generation.

  • The monitoring of Parkinson’s can replace the need for a neurologist to assess and administer the correct confounding medication, resulting in less drug-induced dyskinesias.

  • Smart tattoos can monitor a range of ailments from sleep disorders and heart activity to premature babies, stimulate muscles and serve as a human-to-computer interface when applied to the throat by using vibrations from the vocal cords to control a computer.

  • Dermally-implanted sensors can focus on reflecting changes in blood chemistry.

Read more: The Metamorphis of Technology, Facilitated by Covid-19

Similar to memory implantation, initially created with the intent to entertain, the medical industry has utilised these ideas to improve, enhance and save the lives of those who are either currently suffering, or about to suffer from previously undetected diseases. Whilst we might not yet be willing to communicate entirely through implantable devices, there are certainly advocates keen to cyber-develop themselves with the aid of sophisticated technology to enhance longevity, mood and cognitive abilities.

Read more: Tech Investors Will Use AI To Make Funding Decisions by 2025


Like many sci-fi movies, the purpose is to create a story that breaks boundaries, incites innovation and tests the possible ethical implications. In Total Recall, the narrative was simple: an idea of how to escape mundane life, but instead, the plot sparked medical innovation from alleviating chronic pain, PTSD and potentially finding cures to incurable diseases. These creative discoveries have enabled medical professionals better understanding of the human brain, body and lifestyle - that not only saves lives, but drastically improve them, too.

Of course, all these innovations come at a price - an entrepreneur is simply a person with an idea without the backing of investors! What would you invest in or create if you could change the face of medicine?

Read more: How To Build A Start-Up: Ideation

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