Way back in 1989 the sci-fi film Back to the Future Part II, gave audiences a taste of what future technology could look like. While it was of course, a work of fiction and not a prediction for the future, it did get some things right.
A Familiar Future
A talking jacket, self-lacing sneakers and headsets that makes phone calls and can watch TV – Back to the Future II’s imagining of technology in 2015 ranged from the fanciful to the modest.
Self-lacing sneakers ended up becoming real products made by Nike. One model called the Mag is a replica of the one worn by Michael J Fox in the film and was released in very limited quantities, while a modern contemporary design called the Hyperadapt also uses self-lacing technology.
On the other hand smart glasses like the Google Glass did not take off like the fictional headsets did Nevertheless, the film’s creators were right on the money with their imagining of the influence and popularity of wearable tech in the early 21st century.
Smartwatch-like gadgets even make an appearance in the film, prophesying the emergence of gadgets like the Apple Watch.
Likewise, flat screen TVs and video calls were portrayed in the movie and have since become part of our daily lives.
While we have not developed the ‘Holomax’ technology, the likes of which powered a 3D ‘shark attack’ on Marty, 3D movies were all the rage a few years ago. Avatar, Marvel’s the Avengers and Toy Story 3 are among the most successful 3D films.
Drones make a brief cameo in the film and they even record news similar to how it is depicted. We are using drones for a range of other purposes as well, everything from military strikes to Amazon deliveries.
Some parts of Back to the Future Part II are so on the money you could almost believe that the writers and set designers had some kind of prescience.
A single scene where villain Biff pays for a cab fare with his thumbprint on a tablet-like device played harbinger to tablets, digital fingerprint identification and cashless transactions.
These days tablets are commonly owned gadgets, we can unlock our phones with our fingerprints and pay for Uber, Grab and taxis digitally.
What They Got Wrong
Back to the Future Part II was surprisingly accurate as an augury of trends and progressions in technology, however they definitely missed the mark on some big items.
Although there are various companies working on flying car prototypes, we are three years overdue from seeing a car swoop through the air like Doc’s Delorean. Likewise, we do not have the handy self-drying clothes that Marty acquires on his trip to 2015.
Perhaps the biggest let-down of all is the distinct lack of hoverboards we face in 2018 compared to Back to the Future II. A 2014 viral video which starred Skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk and Doc himself, Christopher Lloyd, fooled many people into thinking hoverboards were finally here.
Sadly, 2015 came and went without us having commercially available hoverboards. There is hope for the future though, as some companies are still carrying the torch.
Undoubtedly the weirdest quirk of Back to the Future Part II’s depiction of the 21st century was the prevalence of fax machines.
Even in 1989, the year of the film’s release, fax machines were not a particularly advanced technology. Of course, fax machines ended up dying out largely due to emails and the internet, something Back to the Future could not account for.
Curiously, fax machines still play an integral role in modern-day Japan, as small- and medium-scale enterprises favour old, familiar technology.
Back to the Future Day
Back to the Future will live on as a sci-fi institution and treasured trilogy by millions of fans. Its cultural influence is wide, ingrained in the global cultural memory. Its ability to predict so many technological innovations, and the charm in its misses, is a testament to its calibre.
For Back to the Future Day on 21 October why not watch the trilogy one more time?