Today’s technology predicted by movies
Many movies have been created that take place far into the future. A Clockwork Orange, 12 Monkeys, the Back to the Future trilogy and Robocop are just some of the many movies that serve as an example of this. However, it is not only a great way to tell stories but it has also been known to have a major impact on the technology we see and use today.
Driverless cars everywhere
Driverless cars have many aliases including autonomous, self-driving and driver-free cars. Basically it is any vehicle that can fulfill the driving role of a human being. This car can navigate roads without human interference and sense its environment while driving to avoid obstacles.
Google is probably the company who has (in recent years) been a pioneer in making these types of cars a reality with their Google Chaffeur software. These self-driving cars are currently only permitted for use in the states of Nevada, Florida and California. Google’s Stanley car won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and a few million dollars from the US Department of Defense.
Driverless cars have been a part of filmmakers’ imaginations since the 1980s. The Pontaic Trans Am KITT from the Knight Rider television show was not only able to drive itself but had many other features. It had audio sensors to perceive sounds, a scanner that could see in all wavelengths, an olfactory sensor that helped the vehicle to “smell” and various cruise modes (from Michael having control of KITT to a high-speed automatic driving mode). All of these features made it a sentient vehicle – a vehicle that is able to see and perceive as if it has human senses.
These types of cars can be seen on the highways of I, Robot; the chase sequence where the police override the protagonist’s vehicle in Minority Report, the 1989 Batmobile that’s able to drive itself to the Bat Cave, the Johnny Cabs in Total Recall controlled by android drivers.
Back to the Future’s many accurate predictions
Now there have been many movies that have gotten the future right (and equally as many that got it very wrong) but no movie has been as accurate as Back to the Future 2. In this second part of the trilogy, the hero of the movie, Marty McFly, travels forward in time from 1985 to 2015 to prevent his future son from going to jail. Of course, the plot is much more complicated than that but that specific series of events is most relevant to technology.
The list of accurately predicted technologies for a movie made in 1985 is truly fascinating. Here are some of the gadgets seen in the movie that have become a reality:
- Flat screen television sets mounted to the wall
- Head-mounted displays similar to the Oculus Rift and Google Glass (the one gadget looks eerily similar to what we see being developed today)
- Video chat software like Skype
- The ability to watch multiple channels at once
- Video games that can be played without using your hands or a traditional controller – think of Microsoft’s Kinect technology or the Wii Remote
- Ubiquitous cameras like the surveillance technology hidden on almost every street corner (Big Brother is watching you!)
The movie’s director, Robert Zemeckis, said that he never intended it to be as accurate in its predictions as it was and rather meant to make the future appear funny instead of realistic. He also didn’t like movies that try to predict the future and at that time he knew that flying cars (one of the gadgets shown in the movie) were not going to become a reality by the year 2015. And he was right.
Now, there are other technologies in the movie that have not yet come to the future and there are many people who are very sad about this. The hoverboard, a skateboard that has no wheels and can float above the ground, is something everyone would love to see become a reality. Recently a site by the name of Funny or Die made a video featuring pro skateboarder Tony Hawk and Christopher Lloyd (the actor who played Doc Brown in Back to the Future) that supposedly showed a working hoverboard. However, it turned out to be a fake. The technology needed to make a hoverboard is difficult to master and develop so don’t get your hopes up about riding one any time soon.
Even animation can get it right
When you think of animated television shows or movies, you don’t think that these are ever meant to predict the future accurately but rather be more of a satirical look at what we expect from the years ahead.
Remember The Jetsons? This animated sitcom was about the Jetson family who live in the year 2062 with all of the futuristic gadgetry you can imagine. They had everything from holograms to household robots (theirs was called Rosie).
In the world of the Jetsons you could see flatscreen TVs, portable devices that are similar to tablets and smartphones, a “televiewer” that allows you to flip through the latest news on a screen (like the Flipboard app) and a robotic vacuum that resembles the popular Roomba autonomous floor cleaner. There are household robots like Rosie in development but they are not yet set to become an affordable, mass-produced household item.
Obviously, many other things were not correct like (once again) flying cars, Mr Jetson’s car that transforms into a briefcase when he gets out of it, regular space travel (even though it is in development) and a nine-hour workweek.
Future tech ideas from the past
There are numerous other movies that featured technology that now seem everyday to us:
- In the film Gattaca, society is driven by the production of genetically engineered children. D.I.Y. genetic testing done at home is already a reality as created by companies such as 23andme (the 23 referring to chromosomes) and can help determine what illnesses you will get in the future.
- Two teens created the perfect woman in Weird Science using a plastic Barbie doll and a computer. 3D printing anyone?
- The classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey has HAL 9000, a sentient computer that speaks to humans. Siri, Cortana and Google Now can easily be equated with HAL 9000 albeit not as evil or as all-powerful (yet).
- Johnny 5 from the cheesy 80s movie, Short Circuit, is a military robot with a mind of its own and nowadays unmanned military vehicles that operate autonomously are par for the course.
- Robot-assisted surgery is technology that was seen in the movie Sleeper and it is becoming more common to use remote-controlled robotics in medical operations.
- The sci-fi series Star Trek had numerous gadgets that became reality and these included transparent aluminium, smartphones (the Tricorder and Communicators can both be seen as similar), stun guns (phasers In the Star Trek universe), translation devices and telepresence or video conferencing.
- Minority Report, a neo-noir science fiction film from 2002, extensively made use of touchscreens as well as retina scanning for the purpose of identifying individuals (hopefully those terrifying robotic spiders invading people’s homes to scan people don’t become a reality).
All of these predictions came true after quite a few years of research and development went by. Perhaps if we’re patient and wait a few more years, we might soon be able to buy those funky hoverboards, travel to the moon for a quick vacation or zip through the sky in a flying car.