The 30th anniversary of the Back to the Future movie franchise has had the internet abuzz with people dissecting what futuristic technology the movie got right and what has failed to come true. And while we don’t yet ride on hoverboards or have sneakers that tie themselves, the movies got a few things right, such as the growing use of holograms and wearable technology similar to Google glass. And the Back to the Future movies aren’t the only science fiction films to be ahead of their time and accurately predict future technology. Here are 10 examples where science fiction television shows and films accurately predicted future technology.
10. Star Trek: The Next Generation – Touchscreen Computers
When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, most people were still using Commodore 64 computers and clunky mouses, and nobody had yet heard of the internet. So it seemed pretty radical when the new crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise were seen navigating the ship through deep space using touchscreen computers. Yet creator Gene Roddenberry and his writers got it right with the touchscreen computers, and with the proliferation of tablets and smart phones, touchscreen technology is today how most people interface with technology. The show also accurately predicted how quickly people would be at typing and using touchscreen technology as the helmsmen on the show, Data and Geordi La Forge, were extremely fast at working their touchscreen consoles. Boldly go indeed!
9. Minority Report – Targeted Advertising
In the 2002 film Minority Report, the lead character, played by actor Tom Cruise, is constantly bombarded everywhere he goes by advertisements that are geared specifically to him and his interests. The ads even refer to him by name. This was an example of targeted advertising, which is now a growing trend in marketing. And while targeted ads are not quite at the level of intensity displayed in Minority Report, advertisers today focus on offering people what they want based on their consumer behavior, i.e. what they have bought in the past, as well as the interests they have shown while surfing the internet. Also, more and more advertisements today refer to people directly by their name. Think of targeted ads the next time you’re at a department store checkout and the person working the cash register asks for your e-mail, home address, and telephone number.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey – The Tablet Computer
There are many futuristic gadgets and gizmos featured in director Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But most of them have not yet materialized, except for one: the main astronauts in the film are seen using tablet computers when doing a diagnostic check on their spaceship. Just as interesting is the fact that Stanley Kubrick accurately predicted the time period when tablet computers would come into use. The first iPad hit stores in 2010, nine years after the setting of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This eerie prediction was actually cited in a U.S. court case a few years ago when tablet maker Samsung cited 2001: A Space Odyssey as “prior art” against Apple’s iPad design patent claim. Clearly the people at both Apple and Samsung are fans of this movie.
7. Total Recall – The Driverless Car
The 1990 film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger shows the strong man jump into a taxi cab that is self-driving—that is, driven by a computer. Major automotive manufacturers around the world are now testing this very same technology, and most industry analysts predict that there will be driverless cars or vehicles navigated completely by computers on North American roads within five years. In fact, computer-driven prototypes are now being tested on streets everywhere. The advancement of computer technology and global positioning systems (GPS) is making this once unheard of future technology a reality. And we 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?
6. Blade Runner – Skype
Any time the character Rick Deckard, played by actor Harrison Ford in the 1982 movie Blade Runner, speaks to someone who is not directly in front of him, it is by video phone. The movie uses video phone technology in several key scenes between Ford and his android love interest Rachel, played by actress Sean Young, which look and function very similar to that of Skype. And while this technology is common today, it seemed startling and revolutionary nearly 35 years ago. Yet watching Blade Runner nowadays, the video phones seem so familiar that people barely notice them. The movie also accurately predicted that the technology people use would become redundant and disposable. This was represented in the fact that the Replicant androids in the movie exist for only four years—no longer. An interesting concept when you consider that Apple tries to make its iPhone obsolete every 12 months.
5. The Truman Show – Reality TV
When The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey 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 and millions of people would, as evidenced by the popularity of current reality television programs. And while reality TV shows have taken over the airwaves in a short 15 years, they were unheard of as recently as 1998 when The Truman Show hit movie theaters. Audiences had a hard time grasping the concept of a world full of viewers who would be fixated on the boring everyday life of a regular Joe. Yet today, reality television rules and we spend hours watching people go for coffee, fight with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and try to find their socks in the morning. Of course, the defining difference between the character played by Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and the reality stars of today is that he did not know he was on television.
4. The Terminator – Military Drones
The 1984 movie The Terminator offers a glimpse into a future where computer controlled aircraft and hunter killer robots on the ground rain fire and death on human populations. And while this seemed far-fetched and unbelievable 30 years ago (how can an airplane fly without a pilot?), today the idea is not only plausible, it is a reality thanks to the military drones and robots that are heavily employed by militaries all around the world. Today, computer controlled, pilotless aircraft are used for everything from surveillance to bombing laser-guided targets. And military robots are used on the ground to disarm landmines and bombs, search burned out buildings, and ferry medical supplies to the front lines. The future is now!
3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Universal Translation
Long before we had Google translate and simultaneous translation services, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture predicted the use of universal language translation care of the Enterprise’s resident communications expert, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. She uses universal and instant language translation several times in the film, which is growing in popularity today as the technology become more ubiquitous. We can now translate English into French and Spanish into Chinese instantly online. But this concept seemed far out back in 1979. Incidentally, Uhura also uses a device in her ear that looks very similar to Bluetooth in not only the first Star Trek film but also in the original 1960s television show. When it came to communications technology, Gene Rodenberry was definitely ahead of his time.
2. Enemy of the State – Government Surveillance
The 1998 film Enemy of the State takes its premise to an extreme, but the future it predicts where the government is able to spy on and track any one of its citizens using satellites, cell phones and global positioning systems (GPS) is a reality today, and not unexpected 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 such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) spying on its own people. And millions of communications are intercepted everyday—from phone calls and e-mails to videos and text messages. Sure Enemy of the State is a paranoid thriller. But maybe we should all be a little paranoid?
1. Star Trek: The Original Series – The Cell Phone/Wireless Communications
What is the “communicator” device featured in the original Star Trek series of the 1960s 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 look aheads ever, the creators and writers of Star Trek accurately predicted wireless technology and the 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 as a transponder to send a signal that would pinpoint a location, as a GPS device that would allow the Enterprise to lock onto a person’s exact location and to 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.