The future is today: 8 things 'Back to the Future' actually predicted… and what it got wrong
As Old Biff would say, “There’s something very familiar about all this.” So let’s take a ride “back from the future” to see what the film franchise got right, where it’s still ahead of its time, and what would be true… if there “were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum.”
Great Scott, we did it!
1. Powered by trash
While we’re not quite powering our flying, time-traveling cars with banana peels and stale beer out of our trash cans, garbage is fueling some pretty potent flying objects. The US military, with the backing of Congress via the Energy Policy Act of 2005, is focusing on jet fuels derived from renewable sources. One of those sources is Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), a “renewable oil (e.g., vegetable oils, animal fat, waste grease, and algae oil)… processed using hydrogen treatment (hydroprocessing) to yield a fuel in the distillation range of jet fuel and diesel.” In 2014, the Pentagon spent up to $150 per gallon on alternative jet fuels made from algae.
And let’s not forget how the water utility in the nation’s capital is being fueled by feces.
2. Wearable and otherwise portable tech
Let’s face it. Doc’s weird glasses and digital camera-type device have nothing on today’s smartphones, Google Glass, heads-up displays, Apple Watches and other sorts of wearable and portable technologies. The reality of today’s tech has gone far beyond what the trilogy’s creators could have dreamed up.
"The fact that everyone can have one device that’s a computer, that’s a camera, that’s a recording device, that’s a calculator, that’s a flashlight... we didn’t think of that," screenwriter and co-producer of the BTTF trilogy, Bob Gale, admitted to the Hollywood Reporter.
“I went to a rejuvenation clinic and got an all-natural overhaul. They took out some wrinkles, did a hair repair, changed the blood, added a good 30 to 40 years to my life. They also replaced my spleen and colon,” Doc tells Marty as he pulls off his disguise.
Yup, sounds like Botox and other ways people seek a physical fountain of youth.
Besides flat screens (see Gale’s comments on that tech below), BTTF2 showed a hologram in the ad for Jaws 19, in which, as Marty says, “Shark still looks fake.” It also looks an awful lot like the 2015 Super Bowl’s surprise star, Left Shark.
Holograms can be so realistic these days that an aura-like outline is sometimes added around the image to make it look fake, such as when CNN used holograms of reporter Jessica Yellin or singer Will.I.Am during its 2008 Election Night coverage.
The BTTF2 creators got so much right with television, it’s like they really did travel forward in time. There’s the six-channeled TV which portended not just picture-in-picture technologies, but also the National Football League’s RedZone stream that shows multiple games at once, or the myriad of ways DirecTV subscribers can watch the US Open tennis tournament.
6. Motion sensor games
“You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy,” says a young Elijah Wood in Cafe 80s after Marty shows the futuristic kid and his pal how to win at the Wild Gunman arcade game.
Just over two decades after BTTF2 came out, Microsoft Kinect made its debut as a motion-sensing video game console.
Grocery store 'smart shelves' will target consumers in real-time based on their facial features - http://t.co/j2oEEH6jmQ— RT America (@RT_America) October 15, 2013
7. Fingerprint scanners and virtual payments
These two technologies appear throughout the film. First, Old Terry approaches Marty asking for donations to “save the clocktower” with a device that looks an awful lot like Square, a gadget that turns smartphones and tablets into credit-card scanners. Then the police scan Jennifer’s thumbprint while she sleeps in the alley to discover her identity. Kind of like how we have our fingerprints scanned at airports and for other security purposes.
Of course, we’re already way beyond the point of using just fingerprints as biometrics.
8. Video calls
In 2015, Old Marty fields calls on his flat-screen TV from Old Needles and his boss. Just like with Skype, WhatsApp and a myriad of other video-calling applications, the callers can see each other as they communicate in real time.
"I would have bet that the flat-screen TV and the Skype-like communication ‒ I would have put money that we would have that," Gale said. But, just like Marty and the sports almanac, he didn’t play the books on that tech.
Precisely on schedule… well, almost
Gale and friends had some good guesses that haven’t quite arrived yet. But the technology is close… ish. Of course, some things on the horizon are actually based on the movie, so we’ll give them half-credit for their futuristic predictions.
There are a few options that are almost hoverboards… but not quite.
Boosted Boards has an electric skateboard that has some hovering properties, while the Hendo Hoverboard, which will set you back a cool $10,000, relies on magnetic technology and a metal ramp. The Lexus Slide hoverboard is still only a concept and will also require a magnetic skatepark, but it should move more like the version Marty boosted from the little girl to escape Griff and his gang.
2. Self-lacing shoes
Doc hands Marty a pair of Nikes that tie themselves. The iconic sneaker brand has, in fact, developed these, but they're more of a gimmick designed for the trilogy’s 30th anniversary and Wednesday’s Future Day than anything else.
“Are we gonna see power laces in 2015? To that, I say YES!” Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield told fans last February, according to ubergizmo.
3. Food hydrators
While we’re not yet rehydrating food in our Black & Decker Hydrators, we are on the verge of getting our meals in some really futuristic ways, like 3D-printing food.
And doesn’t NASA’s 3D-printed pizza look way better than Pizza Hut’s rehydrated version? Of course, it also looks way better than the space agency’s attempts to turn human poop into astronaut food.
Pizza from a printer: NASA to spend $125,000 funding 3D food production project http://t.co/7YITnl2maW— RT America (@RT_America) May 21, 2013
Roads? Where we’re going we… actually do still need roads
But the creators couldn’t get everything right. Here are a few things that are just way off-base.
1. Flying cars
"Flying DeLorean? Haven't seen one of those in... thirty years," Old Biff mutters as the winged-door sports car lands in front of Cafe 80s. Sorry, “butthead,” but you still haven’t, unless you’re in an alternate version of 2015. For now, though, you’ll probably have to wait until 2062, when The Jetsons is set, as we’re stillworkingonself-drivingcars and trucks.
Obviously faxes still exist. They’re just pretty much functionally obsolete. Why send something that has to be printed out ‒ wasting paper ‒ when you can email, text or scan it? And let’s not forget all those social media messaging apps. Your boss can just tweet you to tell you that you’re fired, right?
3. The justice system
“The justice system works quickly, now that they’ve abolished all lawyers,” Doc tells Marty. Not to get all “heavy,” but the courts are even more overloaded and attorneys are still everywhere. Plus poor people and minorities are prosecuted at a much higher rate than their proportion of the general population.
Cubs sweep Miami?
There are a few things that could still possibly happen this year, so we’re reserving judgment on whether the BTTF2 crew got them right.
1. Rain in California
Yes, the Golden State has been going through a massive, four-year drought. However, California has just suffered through some torrential downpours and mudslides, so the pouring rain as the Delorean flies through while heading towards Hill Valley on October 21, 2015 could still conceivably arrive, even though the current forecast calls for a 0 percent chance of precipitation. Unlike what Doc says after noting the rain would end in five seconds, neither the post office nor the Weather Service are particularly efficient.
2. Cubs win the World Series
The hapless Chicago Cubs still haven’t hoisted Major League Baseball’s championship trophy since 1908, but they could possibly win the World Series in 2015. They are currently down 2-0 to the New York Mets after the first two games of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. There’s no way for them to be eliminated from contention before Wednesday at 4:29 p.m. on the West Coast, as the first pitch for Game 4 isn’t until 8:07 p.m. ET. If they do manage to squeak by the Mets, they won’t face Miami ‒ the Marlins, by the way, not the Gators – because, first of all, the Marlins play in the NL, not the American League; and second of all, they didn’t make the playoffs this year. The South Florida-based team even didn’t come into being until 1993, however, so score one for the BTTF2 creators for calling that one.
If the Cubbies do advance, Doc portrayer Christopher Lloyd wants to throw out the first pitch at the Fall Classic.
“I didn’t even remember about the Cubs until someone brought it up a few days ago,” he told the Hollywood Reporter last Wednesday. “Maybe it’ll happen. We’ll see. They got to get there first.”
Whether the predictions for the future in BTTF2 were pie-in-the-sky guesses or educated guesses and regardless of whether they turned out to be true or remain futuristic fantasies, the trilogy’s creators wanted the movie to be fun and relatable. So take their tech conjectures with a grain of salt.
“Part of what makes the movie still so watchable, even as goofy as some of the stuff is, is that everybody understands that we’re having fun with it,” said Gale. “We [were] not saying, ‘We’re going to seriously try to predict what life is going to be like in the year 2015,’ no.”
Now that we’re back from the future, “make like a tree and get out of here!”