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Cover of The Minority Report, the 4th volume of Philip K. Dick's collected stories
"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. In 2002, the story was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow. Spielberg's film was followed by a series of the same name which debuted on the FOX Network on September 21, 2015.
John Anderton is the head of the Precrime Division. One day, he receives a report that he is going to murder a General Kaplan, a man he never met. At first he goes on the run, but later turns to the offensive to figure out why the precogs identified him as a killer. He finds out that Kaplan is pushing to abolish the Division, claiming that it's not accurate. Giving himself up, he meets with Kaplan at a rally where he is used as an example of the ineffectiveness of Precrime and bolstering Kaplan's position. To everyone's surprise, Anderton pulls out a gun and kills Kaplan. He and his wife are exiled to an off planet concentration camp. On the way he explains his reasoning. After obtaining the precog reports he realized that one minority report said that he would not kill Kaplan. He realizes that each report is based on him having knowledge of the other reports. In the first report he kills Kaplan to prevent Precrime from being shut down. The second report has a narrative where, after reading the first report, he decides not to shoot the general and spare his family imprisonment. The final report details how Kaplan was planning a military coup to install martial law in place of Precrime thus leading Anderton to the decision that he has to assassinate Kaplan. Realizing that it's the lesser of two evils, Anderton decides to follow the path described to him in the third report and kills Kaplan.
Founded thirty years prior to when the story is set, Precrime is a predictive policing 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 committed, 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 braintissue. 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.
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.
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.