Tag Archives: futurism

It’s now the future again

So one more landmark in the impossibly far-off future has passed. 1997, when Skynet became operational? Last millennium. Year 2000, when our technological society was destroyed because all the computers had the Y2K bug? Check. 2001, the year we find the monolith on the moon? So last decade. 2010, the year we make contact? In the past. It’s 2015 now. October 21st 2015, about 4:25 pm Pacific Time as I write this. At 4:29, Marty McFly arrives in a flying DeLorean having come directly from 1985.

Now, obviously the Back To The Future movies were never meant as serious predictions of future events. I mean, really? Cubs win World Series? Come on. The BTTF movies’ creators depicted a fantastic future, one they could have fun with. It’s a comedy, after all.

That said, I’m writing this post to explore the technologies shown in BTTF 2 and the possibility that we might actually have them by now.

So here are the ones that stand out in my mind, in no particular order:

  • Flying things. Cars, hoverboards, dog walkers.
    • Cars: Flying cars have actually been around for a long time, they just never became very popular. Depending on how one interprets the word “car”, one could say that 1917’s Curtiss Autoplane fits this description. References: Wikipedia (yeah, I know it’s not a reliable source but I don’t feel like looking up the actual sources) 1, 2, 3
    • Hoverboards: Definitely not cheap enough that you’d build these into a hoverboard and give one to your little girl, but I’d say this quantum levitation video is close enough. Plus the video’s from 2011; we’ve had some time to improve the tech since then.
    • Dog walkers: Yes and no. I say “yes, we have these” because quadcopter drones have become cheap enough that I can imagine somebody hooking theirs up to a dog’s leash as a joke. I say “no, we don’t have these” because those cheap little drones would never be able to resist the dog’s pull. It would be as if the dog were just allowed to walk free.
  • Fax machines everywhere, even in our mailboxes: While I will give some credit for predicting the prevalence of electronic communications, the movie specifically showed fax machines. Nobody uses fax anymore. I have a machine – actually a multi-function printer – but it’s not hooked up to a phone line. That’s a far cry from the McFly family having machines all over their house all printing the same fax at the same time.
  • Big TVs: They’re here. Obviously not as comically over-sized as the wall-covering screen Marty Jr. uses to watch six channels at once, but today’s TVs are really huge compared to the ones in 1985. Also, bonus points for predicting flat-panel display technology and widescreen video.
  • The Scene Screen: Speaking of TVs, this I think is one of the more plausible technologies BTTF 2 demonstrated. Roll-up window shades have always been passable projection screens. Now we have projectors so tiny they could conceivably be hidden inside a nearby table or something. Combine that with a Kinect to identify the screen’s location and effective dimensions (which may change as the screen gets rolled/unrolled) and a Raspberry Pi to run it all. I think this is doable.
  • Robot trash cans: Not exactly commonplace, but they do exist.
  • Head-mounted TV/telephones: We’ve got better ones. Better because ours can fit in our pockets and can run apps (they are actually computers, after all).
  • Dust-repellent paper books: Who cares about protecting books from dust when you can coat them with superhydrophobic spray and then just wash the dust off? I don’t know if superhydrophobic coating would actually be good for the book’s pages (has it ever been tried? Would it make the pages stick together?) but I like this idea.
  • Instant sleep-inducing devices: As far as I know, we’ve got nothing even close.
  • Instant food hydrators: You want your food hydrated? Just pour some water on it.
  • Home nuclear reactors: While nobody’s yet build a reactor into something the size of a coffee grinder (the actual Mr. Fusion prop used in the BTTF movies was a Krups coffee grinder), home nuclear reactors can be built. See, for example, this Popular Science article from 2007. Cold fusion is still not a thing though.
  • Holographic sharks: Not quite as unrealistic as you may think. Still impossible though.

So what technologies, from these or other movies, stand out to you? How probable do you think they are? Let me know in the comments!

Stay happy, stay free, and don’t forget that you don’t need to be a consumer.