Back to the Future 2 Day October 21, 2015: Five technologies and predictions that came true in reality - and what's next?

Dave Coplin
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Back to the Future Day
80s films and today's tech, not so different after all

For over a hundred years, science fiction films have paved the way for society to dream about the potential of technology.

From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis through to Star Trek, the Terminator and beyond, the silver screen has long been a canvas for our wildest dreams about what the future might hold.

The geeks amongst you will know that Wednesday is Back to the Future II day, the future date when Doc and Marty arrive to save the past. Twenty-six years after the film’s release it’s incredible to see how some of the predictions from the film – flying cars, hoverboards and virtual reality – are rapidly becoming more like reality than fiction.

Sci-fi films have always had a knack for predicting future technology, some say Star Trek was the inspiration behind the tablet computer, the world’s first flip phone and both Star Trek and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy predicted a universal translator, similar to that which Skype Translator offers now. Minority Report looked at the use of predictive data and we certainly live in a world where we use data to make future-gazing decisions.

Back to the Future II is no exception, so on the day Marty and Doc travelled to, where are we now? Here are a few prophecies that were made in the movie in 1989 that are tantalisingly close:

1. The flying car

This may not be reality quite yet, but as Doc Brown pointed out “This sucker’s electrical”, and today, we are seeing a huge rise in electric cars, not to mention the developments in both connected and self-driving cars.

2. Virtual reality

In the film Marty’s kids used wearable tech to watch TV and take calls. Now with technologies like Microsoft’s HoloLens and with the consumer version of Oculus Rift is poised to hit households next year, so we’re not far off.

3. Video Calling

Back in the 1980s the concept of video telephone calls for everyone was definitely fiction, but today tools like Skype and FaceTime are the norm.

4. Hoverboards

Frustratingly, we don’t yet have access to the kind of hoverboards Marty used in the film, but this year two promising prototypes, both powered by magnets, were released (although given last weeks “hoverboards in public places” fiasco in the UK, it seems it will be legal issues rather than technical ones that prevent our progress)

5. Self-lacing shoes

Again, these are not propping up the shelves of your local shoe shop but ‘smart clothes’ and wearable tech already exists and will become more prevalent and integrated in our lives moving forward

What’s great about sci-fi films and the genre in general is that it creates inspiration for us as a society to do more. Yes, sometimes the films get it wrong, but, unlike reality where our aspirations are overly constrained by the past, by unhinging reality (or in many cases, the laws of physics) they at least start a conversation or might give a budding designer a creative spark.

These films and the sometimes zany tech they show, lets our society ask – what would happen if we could live differently? And what would that look like? It’s a much better place to start off than being constrained by the way we live our lives today. Besides, we have to get this right, it’s not about us anymore, it’s for our kids…

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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