Just about every dystopian movie from The Running Man to Dredd begins the same way: “It’s the year 20XX, cities are overcrowded, criminals rule the streets while the elites live in luxury in their fortified towers ...”
Could any of that really happen? According to this chilling short video from the Pentagon called “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” the answer is yes, and sooner than you might think.
The video is slickly produced — although the narration is often a little awkward — showing images of violence and slums over an ominous violin score. Citing some alarming statistics about the explosive population growth and rapidly increasing income inequality in the developing world over the next 14 years, the video imagines a kind of worst-case scenario in which the U.S. military might be tasked with fighting a war in one of these megacities. Given that situation, they don't sound particularly optimistic about their chance at success. “This is the world of our the future,” the narrator intones. “It is one we are not prepared to operate effectively within, and it is unavoidable.”
An Army spokesman told The Intercept (who unearthed the video via a Freedom of Information Act request) that it was “privately produced pro-bono in spring of 2014” and that “the producer of the film wishes to remain anonymous.”
The video was apparently shown earlier this year as part of a course on “Advanced Special Operations Combating Terrorism” at the Joint Special Operations University headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Given that it dates from 2014, the video might be connected to the Army’s report from that year titled “Megacities and the United States Army: Preparing for a complex and uncertain future.” If you wanted to scare the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the House Armed Services Committee into increasing your special operations budget, this video would probably help out.
At the same time, it’s hard to look past how some of the predictions sound like a pitch for a great new dystopian movie, such as: “Living habitats will extend from the high-rise to the ground-level cottage, to subterranean labyrinths, each defined by its own social code and rule of law.” Consider how this line could have been lifted from a William Gibson novel: “Where physical domains can be seen, digital domains will have limitless potential to breed and expand without limit.”
One way or another, we probably will see the future that “Megacities” predicts for 2030. With any luck, we'll be watching it in theaters and not on the news.