Future Tense

The Six Best Sci-Fi Shorts of 2012: Dystopias and Robots With Heart

“Tempo,” a sci-fi short film

Still © Red Giant.

2012’s sci-fi cinema was a bit of a mixed bag: We had the widely appealing Hunger Games and the clever Looper, but also the dud John Carter.

Online, however, a number of sci-fi shorts with impressive production values raised important questions about augmented reality, constant surveillance, space exploration, robots with heart, and other technology topics that raise tricky questions for society and policymakers. Below, find the top six narrative sci-fi videos from 2012. Many are proof-of-concepts from special effects shops, so there are some dazzling visuals to behold. Celebrate the new year with stories that will make you dread the future—in a good way.


Special-effects maestro Aaron Sims wanted to make a movie about robots. To pique Hollywood’s interest, he first created this short, in which a newly “born” robot appears to have real human memories. The project paid off: After the video went viral, producer John Davis acquired the rights to “Archetype.”


Issues explored: Human-robot interaction, creating a mind

Run time: 7:02


The tempo device can make an object accelerate or decelerate with the push of a button—and it would make a mighty fine weapon. So of course the bad guys want to take it from the genial scientists.

While most of the other shorts here have a video game feel and are light on conversation, “Tempo” has a dash of dark humor and smart dialogue. But there’s still plenty of guns.


Issues explored: Military technology, ethics of technological innovation

Run time: 13:52

Augmented-reality contacts make life more fun—and not a little creepy—in this short created by Israeli students Daniel Lazo and Eran May-raz.

Issues explored: Augmented reality, online dating, gamification, technology etiquette, online advertising

Run time: 7:50

In this Minority Report-inspired shoot-‘em-up short (with a sprinkle of Judge Dredd), the government requires all Americans to be implanted with a device that not only identifies them, but records everything they do and see. Note that despite this remarkable advance in technology, the protagonist still drives his own car.

Issues explored: augmented reality, crime fighting, civil rights, spam bots (real ones—a robot with an Eastern European machine accent advertises “Happy Pillz”), embedded identification chips


Run time: 7:12

Set in 2071, this quiet and moody 13-minute film shows a lonely explorer conducting reconnaissance on Gaia, a rocky, moon-esque planet slated for possible colonization. Then something goes wrong.

Issues explored: Space colonization

Run time: 13:40

After a “nuclear decade” of war left cities around the world too irradiated for human life (except for the stalwarts who refused to evacuate), a company called Gamma creates a method to cleanse urban zones. In Eastern Europe, they deploy “nuke roots”—hybrids of fungi and mollusks—to scarf up the radiation. Once they’ve done their duty, the “nuke roots” are supposed to be buried safely so humans can return. But something goes wrong. (Doesn’t it always?)

Issues explored: Nuclear war, corporate mistrust, premature deployment of untested technologies

Run time: 6:47