Science fiction often inspires the tech of the future; we look at what one blockbuster foresaw for 2015.
This post from late 2014 has been republished for October 21, 2015, aka THE FUTURE.
Beloved pop culture time travelers Marty McFly and Doc Brown rocketed into director Robert Zemekis’ vision of 2015 in Back to the Future Part II 25 years ago. Now that we’re heading into the real 2015, just how close did Zemekis come to predicting the technology of today?
What The Film Got Right
In the film, it was a fight to get the McFly teens to separate themselves from their video glasses long enough to join the family for dinner. Though you might recognize your smartphone-gazing self in that situation, the real prediction here lies in the hardware: Those “videophone glasses” look and work a lot like now-available Google Glass. Zemekis actually underestimated the functionality of today’s electronic eyewear, which can do much more than play video and make phone calls. And while we may not have self-tying sneakers, wearable tech such as Fitbit and smartwatches from Samsung and Apple are becoming increasingly more widely available. Visit crunchwear.com to see even more of these innovations.
In the movie, as soon as someone crashes into the courthouse, a USA Today hovercam is on the scene to snap pictures of the arrest and report the story. We may not yet have autonomous news bots zipping around the skies, but aerial photography taken by drones has become quite popular, with consumer versions of the pic-snapping bots available for just a few hundred dollars. You can visit parrot.com to see examples of the drones they’ve been creating; reports indicate Sony is also currently developing its own drones.
Face-to-face video calls were possible on any screen in the world of Back to the Future, and that isn’t far from reality today. Anyone with an Apple product is familiar with its ubiquitous FaceTime app, and PC and Android users have also long had Skype to fill their video-call needs. However, the film didn’t anticipate that voice-only calls, e-mails and text messages would still trump the face-to-face video format in popularity for most purposes.
Split-screen TV, Hundreds of Channels, Sequel Mania, and 3D Technology
In Zemekis’ 2015, entertainment options are so abundant that the public has no time to consume them one-by-one. So the world is plastered with screens, most of which are split to deliver more than one source of information at a time. This is literally available today in multichannel split-screen options on certain televisions and cable services. Plus, many of us create our own multi-screen worlds by concurrently dividing our attention between smartphones, computers and televisions.
Meanwhile, modern television’s thousands of channels have led to many as specific as those referenced in the film: Even the fictional “Scenery Channel” has a real-life 2015 counterpart in the Amazon-Prime-based “Window Channel.” Our national obsession with blockbuster sequels hasn’t given us the film’s fictional Jaws 19 yet, but today’s box office is definitely ruled by franchises meant to inspire at least a trilogy (or, increasingly, four or more films). And with more and more realistic 3D drawing audiences to cineplexes in droves, could mainstream holographic entertainment be far behind?
What The Film Got Wrong
Where Are the Cell Phones?
Though Zemekis presented a hyperconnected world, connecting required stationary items like television screens or fax stations. And though there’s something resembling an iPad used to collect donations at one point, he missed the cell-phone phenomenon completely. This is especially odd when you consider that mobile phones had been commercially available for six years before the film’s premiere.
Why Is Everyone Faxing?
The humble fax still reigns supreme in Back to the Future 2015, where it’s the preferred and most efficient form of communication. Even more quaint: They were still printing everything on physical paper! While the instinct for instant message delivery was spot on, Zemekis completely missed the emergence of the Internet and e-mail as quick, digital-only methods for getting a message across.
When Is Everyone Going to Fly?
No, our cars do not fly yet, and commercially-available hoverboards are a ways off. But Google has managed to create a self-driving car, while BMW and Audi have also been developing driverless technology. Some CES 2014 attendees even got to try a driverless ride. This may one day revolutionize the way we travel by eliminating the insane traffic that plagued even the flying-car-filled skies of Zemekis’ imagination. How’s that for forward-thinking?
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Last modified: July 23, 2019