Considering 2020 marks the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future, people love to dissect what futuristic technology the movie got right and what has yet to come true. While we don’t ride on hoverboards or own self-tying sneakers, the franchise got a few things right, such as the growing use of holograms and wearable technology.
However, the Back to the Future movies aren’t the only science fiction media to be ahead of their time and accurately predict future technology. Here are some examples where science fiction TV shows and films accurately predicted future technology.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Touchscreen Computers
When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, people were still using Commodore 64 computers and clunky mouses. So it seemed pretty radical when the new crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise was seen using touchscreen computers. Yet creator Gene Roddenberry and his writers got it right as touchscreen devices are how people interface with technology nowadays.
The show also accurately predicted how quickly people would be at typing and using touchscreen technology. This was demonstrated by Data and Geordi La Forge.
Minority Report – Targeted Advertising
In the 2002 film Minority Report, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is constantly bombarded by advertisements that are geared specifically to his interests. The ads even refer to him by name.
This example shows the concept of targeted advertising, which is now a growing trend in marketing. While targeted ads are not quite at the level of intensity found in Minority Report, advertisers today focus on offering people what they want. Advertisers base this on the customer’s behavior, such as what they have bought in the past or what they usually search on the Internet.
So, think of targeted ads the next time you’re at the checkout and the person working the cash register asks for your e-mail, home address, and phone number.
2001: A Space Odyssey – Tablet Computer
There are many futuristic gadgets and gizmos featured in director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of them have yet to materialize, except for one: the tablet computer. In fact, the astronauts aboard the Discovery One use tablet computers, known as Newspads, to watch television.
Interestingly enough, Stanley Kubrick accurately predicted the time period when tablet computers would come into use. The first iPad hit store shelves in 2010 — nine years after the setting of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This eerie prediction was actually cited in a U.S. court case between Apple and Samsung from 2011. Tablet maker Samsung cited 2001: A Space Odyssey as “prior art” against Apple’s iPad design patent claim.
Total Recall – The Driverless Car
Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger sees the iconic actor jump into a self-driving taxi cab. All the way back in 1990, this concept seemed way off from becoming reality. Two decades later, many major automotive manufacturers around the world are testing this very same technology. However, it’s still uncertain when self-driving cars will go into full production.
The advancement of computer technology and global positioning systems (GPS) is making this once unheard of future technology a reality. And people first saw it in Total Recall. I wonder if real self-driving taxis will have dummy drivers that talk to us like in the movie?
Blade Runner – Video Calls
In Blade Runner, any time Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) speaks to someone who is not directly in front of him, it’s by videophone. The movie uses videophone technology in several key scenes between Deckard and his android lover Rachel (Sean Young).
The look and function of the videophone are very similar to video calls via Skype, Messenger, and FaceTime. While this technology is common today, it was startling and revolutionary back in 1982.
The Truman Show – Reality Television
When The Truman Show was released in 1998, it seemed like a ridiculous concept for a movie. A television show about a regular person and their mundane, everyday life. Who would watch such a show?
Turns out millions of people would, as evidenced by the popularity of reality television programs. In fact, people spend hours watching others go for coffee, fight with their significant others, and try to find their socks in the morning.
The Terminator – Military Drones
1984’s The Terminator offers a glimpse into a future where computer-controlled aircraft and killer robots rain fire and death on human populations. While this seemed far-fetched and unbelievable 35 years ago, it is a reality. Just look at all the drones and robots heavily employed by militaries all around the world.
Today, computer-controlled, pilotless aircraft is used for everything from surveillance to bombing laser-guided targets. Robots are used on the ground to disarm bombs, search burned-out buildings, and ferry medical supplies to the frontlines.
The future is now!
Enemy of the State – Government Surveillance
While Enemy of the State takes its premise to an extreme, the future it predicts is a reality today. The future it predicts is one where the government is able to spy on and track any one of its citizens using satellites, cell phones, and GPS. However, that’s expected in a post-9/11 world where intelligence agencies have to survey, intercept and neutralize terrorist threats.
Today, newspapers and websites are rife with stories about government institutions — namely, the CIA and NSA — spying on its own people. From phone calls and e-mails to videos and text messages, millions of communications are intercepted every day.
Sure Enemy of the State is a paranoid thriller. But maybe we should all be a little paranoid?
Star Trek: The Original Series – Cell Phone/Wireless Communications
What is the “communicator” device featured in the original Star Trek other than a cell phone? It looks exactly like a flip phone and functions like one too.
In one of the most prescient future tech lookaheads ever, the creators and writers of Star Trek accurately predicted wireless technology and humanity’s reliance on mobile devices. After all, anytime Captain Kirk and crew had to get out of a jam, they flipped open their communicator and called for Scotty to beam them up.
The communicator was also used in several episodes to:
- Send a signal that would pinpoint a location;
- Allow the Enterprise to lock onto a person’s exact location, and;
- Text S.O.S. messages for help.
When these elements are considered, it seems that Star Trek got the cell phone just about right — minus the camera and music player, of course.