The Minority Report
"The Minority Report" is a 1956 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick, first published in Fantastic Universe. In a future society, three mutants foresee all crime before it occurs. Plugged into a great machine, these "precogs" allow the Precrime division to arrest suspects prior to any infliction of public harm. When the head of Precrime John A. Anderton is accused of murdering Leopold Kaplan, a man whom he has never met, Anderton is convinced a great conspiracy is afoot. His new assistant, Ed Witwer, must have corrupted the system in an attempt to oust him from the position. On the run and suspicious of even his wife, Anderton searches for the minority report to clear his name, as only two out of the three precogs predicted his guilt. Through a series of betrayals and changing alliances, Anderton discovers that the three predictions are rather a progression of alternate realities. In order to maintain the authority of Precrime, Anderton consciously decides to kill Kaplan, thereby affirming the validity of the second majority report. Anderton is thus exiled with his wife to life on a frontier colony and replaced by Witwer as head of Precrime. The story ends with Anderton's advice to his successor: “Better keep your eyes open,” he informed young Witwer. “It might happen to you at any time.”
The story reflects many of Philip K. Dick's personal Cold War anxieties, particularly questioning the relationship between authoritarianism and individual autonomy. Like many stories dealing with knowledge of future events, "The Minority Report" questions the existence of free will.
Founded thirty years prior to when the story is set, Precrime is a system dedicated to apprehending and detaining people before they have the opportunity to commit a given crime. This method has replaced the traditional system of discovering a crime and its perpetrator(s) after the crime has already been commited, then issuing punishment after the fact. As Witwer says early on in the story, "punishment was never much of a deterrent and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead". Unlike the film adaptation, the story version of Precrime does not deal solely with cases of murder, but all crimes. As Commissioner John A. Anderton (the founder of Precrime) states, "Precrime has cut down felonies by 99.8%."
Three mutants, known as "precogs", have precognitive abilities by which they can see up to two weeks into the future. The precogs are strapped into machines, nonsensically babbling as a computer listens and converts this gibberish into predictions of the future. This information is then transcribed onto conventional punch cards which are ejected into various coded slots: when cards are produced, they appear simultaneously at Precrime and the army headquarters, in order to prevent systemic corruption.
Precogs are mutants, identified talents further developed in a government-operated training school — for example, one precog was initially diagnosed as "a hydrocephalic idiot" but the precog talent was found under layers of damaged brain tissue. The precogs are kept in rigid position by metal bands, clamps and wiring, strapping them into special high-backed chairs. Their physical needs are taken care of automatically and Anderton claims that they have no spiritual needs. Their physical appearance is distorted from an ordinary human, with enlarged heads and wasted bodies. Precogs are "deformed" and "retarded" as "the talent absorbs everything"; "the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal area". They do not understand their predictions; only through technological and mechanical aid can their nonsense be unravelled. The data produced does not always pertain to crime or murder, but this information is then passed on to other agencies.
Majority and minority reports
Each of the three precogs generates its own report or prediction. The reports of all the precogs are analyzed by a computer and, if these reports differ from one another, the computer identifies the two reports with the greatest overlap and produces a majority report, taking this as the accurate prediction of the future. But the existence of majority reports implies the existence of a minority report. In the story, Precrime Police Commissioner John A. Anderton believes that the prediction that he will commit a murder has been generated as a majority report. He sets out to find the minority report, which would give him an alternate future.
However, as Anderton finds out, sometimes all three reports differ quite significantly, and there may be no majority report, even though two reports may have had enough in common for the computer to link them as such. In the storyline, all of the reports about Anderton differ because they predict events occurring sequentially, and thus each is a minority report. Anderton's situation is explained to be unique because he, as Police Commissioner, received notice of the precogs' predictions, allowing him to change his mind and invalidate earlier precog predictions.
Multiple time paths
The existence of three apparent minority reports suggests the possibility of three future time paths, all existing simultaneously, any of which an individual could choose to follow or be sent along following an enticement (as in Anderton's being told he was going to murder an unknown man). In this way, the time-paths overlap, and the future of one is able to affect the past of another. It is in this way that the story weaves a complicated web of crossing time paths and makes a linear journey for Anderton harder to identify. It is the theory of multiple-futures which allows the precogs of Precrime to be of benefit, because if only one time-path existed, the predictions of the precogs would be worthless, since no possibility would exist of altering the future. Precrime is based on the notion that once one unpleasant future pathway is identified, an alternative, better one can be created with the arrest of the intended perpetrator.
Police Commissioner John A. Anderton
John A. Anderton is the protagonist of The Minority Report. At first, he is highly insecure, suspicious of those closest to him - his wife, his assistant Witwer. He has complete faith in the Precrime system and its authority over individuals and their freedom of choice. The poor living condition of the precogs and the imprisonment of would-be criminals are necessary consequences for the greater good of a safe society. When his own autonomy comes under attack, Anderton retains this faith and convinces himself that the system has somehow been corrupted. At first, when his wife suggests, “Perhaps a lot of people in the camps are like you.’ ‘No,’ Anderton insisted. But he was beginning to feel uneasy about it too. ‘I was in a position to see the card, to get a look at the report. That’s what did it.’ ‘But – ’ Lisa gestured significantly. ‘Perhaps all of them would have acted that way. We could have told them the truth.’ ‘It would have been far too great a risk,’ he answered stubbornly” (Ch.7). When later asked, “Which means more to you – your own personal safety or the existence of the system?’ ‘My safety,’ Anderton answered, without hesitation. ‘If the system can survive only by imprisoning innocent people, then it deserves to be destroyed. My personal safety is important because I’m a human being” (Ch.7). Anderton struggles to find an appropriate balance between Precrime authority and individual liberty. Ultimately, Anderton decides to kill Leopold Kaplan in order to affirm the majority report and thereby preserve the validity of the Precrime system. In doing so, he is himself liberated from society in exile and recovers his self-confidence. Anderton has arguably lost some of his humanity in becoming a murderer, yet he has regained a sense of superiority over both his wife and Witwer.
- The 2002 film Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg and with Tom Cruise as main actor, was based on the story.
- A video game, Minority Report: Everybody Runs, published in 2002 by Activision, was based on the film.
Differences between short story and film
- While the film uses the backdrop of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Northern Virginia, the location of the original story is unidentified.
- In the story, John Anderton is a 50-year old balding, out-of-shape police officer who created Precrime, while in the movie Anderton is in his late 30s, handsome, drug addict, athletic, with a full head of hair who joined Precrime after his son's kidnapping. His wife in the short story is named Lisa, while his ex-wife in the film is named Lara.
- The precogs were originally named Mike, Donna, and Jerry, and were deformed and intellectually disabled. In the adaptation, they are called Agatha, Dashiell, and Arthur — after crime writers Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Arthur Conan Doyle — children of drug addicts whose mutations led them to dream of future murders, which are captured by machines. They are "deified" by the Precrime officers, and are implied to be intelligent (Agatha guides Anderton successfully through a crowded mall while being pursued by Precrime, and the trio are seen reading large piles of books at the end of the film). In the end of the movie they retire to a rural cottage where they continue their lives in freedom and peace.
- In the short story, the precogs can see other crimes, not just murder. In the movie, the precogs can only see murders.
- In the short story, Anderton's future victim is General Leopold Kaplan, who wants to discredit Precrime in order to replace this police force with a military authority. At the end of the story, Anderton kills him to prevent the destruction of Precrime. In the movie, Anderton is supposed to kill someone named Leo Crow, but later finds out Crow is just part of a set up, to prevent Anderton from discovering a different murder that his superior, Lamar Burgess, committed years ago. At the end of the film, Anderton confronts Burgess, who commits suicide and sends Precrime into oblivion.
- In the short story, Anderton seeks the precogs to hear their "minority reports". In the movie, Anderton kidnaps a precog in order to discover his own "minority report" and extract the information for a mysterious crime.
- The short story ends with Anderton and Lisa exiled to a space colony after Kaplan's murder. The movie finishes with John and Lara reunited after the conspiracy's resolution, expecting a second child.
Philip K. Dick: Minority Report (Gollancz: London, 2002) (ISBN 1-85798-738-1 or ISBN 0-575-07478-7) (contains nine short stories by Dick, including most of those that were adapted into films. Also released in audio book form ISBN 0-06-009526-1 containing only five stories, read by Keir Dullea)
- Dick, Philip K. (2002). Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. New York: Pantheon.
- "The Duck Speaks: Minority Report". Archived from the original on 2007-05-05. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
- "Comparison Paper on Minority Report: "From Story to Screen"". Retrieved 2007-03-25.
- Landrith, James (2004-04-12). "The Minority Report: In Print and On Screen". Retrieved 2007-03-25.