“The Minority Report” — Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick, though a major writer of prose science fiction, is probably best known these days for the many film adaptations that have been made of his works. The first, and most notable of these is Blade Runner, based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Other adaptations include Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck, Next, and Minority Report, the last of which was based on our next story. Other dystopian works of Dick’s include The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. All told, Dick published more than 100 short stories and more than forty novels, including several non-genre works. He was recently canonized by the Library of America, which published omnibus editions of his major novels in three volumes.

Although it’s not a constitutional right, the legal system of the United States is built upon the presumption of innocence, the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty.  The Supreme Court established the primacy of this ideal in 1895, in a landmark decision on the case Coffin v. United States.  No one can be proven guilty without hard evidence that firmly links them to the crime they have committed.

But what if the evidence comes from the future?  Can someone be convicted for a crime they haven’t committed yet?

In our next tale, the police’s Precrime unit has developed a remarkable method for seeing into the future.  Powerful computers process the visions of three psychics—literally “the thought police”—comparing the results to create a very accurate prediction of future crimes.  Their work is so good there have been no successful homicides in five years.  But is it right to punish someone for a crime they might have chosen not to do? 

And what if the system makes a mistake?

Here is a world that might be beyond justice, not because it has thrown aside the presumption of innocence—but because it has destroyed the meaning of guilt.