Oh, we’re finally here. But, as all fans of Back to the Future know, the appropriate question is not “where the hell are we?”, it’s “when the hell are we?”
That’s what Marty McFly learns from inventor Emmett “Doc” Brown when Doc demonstrates his time machine for the first time in the 1985 film “Back to the Future”, and sends Einstein the dog one minute into the future in a DeLorean sports car.
By the time the sequel rolled around four years later, McFly had learned his lesson:
McFly: “Where are we? When are we?”
Doc: “We’re descending toward Hill Valley, California at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.”
This year, 2015, is a big year for fans of the Back to the Future trilogy. First of all, the original movie celebrated its 30th anniversary in July 2015, which is sort of a big deal in itself, but in the movie, McFly accelerates his DeLorean to 88mph on October 26, 1985. Another anniversary.
But wait, there’s more. When Doc Brown takes Marty McFly to the future, they land in October 21, 2015.
And here we are.
Our 2015 doesn’t look exactly the way the filmmakers imagined it. But many of the ideas have seen the light of day, if in a slightly different form.
In the movie, we see self-drying jackets, self-lacing shoes, 3D movie technology, double ties, robot waiters at a nostalgic 80s café, fingerprint ID, Pepsi Perfect, virtual windows, smartwatches with accurate weather service and giant flatscreen TVs.
We also hear that Doc has been to a rejuvenation clinic for an all-natural overhaul. “They took out some wrinkles, did a hair repair, changed the blood [and] replaced my spleen and colon.” And of course, there’s the built-in fax that tells McFly he’s been fired – right after a video call with his boss.
In other words, a couple of misses, a couple of near misses, and a lot of hits.
The misses show how predictions can go wrong when you only extend your knowledge of the present. Few of us own fax machines these days, but back in 1985, the fax machine was about as cool as a car phone. So naturally, a fax machine built into the wall of your house was even cooler.
There are also no Jaws sequels 5–19, and the justice system still uses lawyers.
But the list of hits is nothing short of impressive, especially if we interpret them somewhat broadly.
There’s no self-drying jacket, but Nike has announced it will launch self-lacing shoes this year. Smart clothing is definitely a concept of our time.
The first thing we see about the future is the existence of flying cars. At the end of the first movie, Doc Brown assures Marty that the DeLorean can get up to 88mph even on their short street because, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
The skies aren’t filled with flying cars, especially not flying DeLoreans, but several companies are developing drivable vehicles that fly.
The 3D movie technology has made great strides but, unlike in the movie, we still have to wear those special glasses. Speaking of glasses, the technology to watch TV and answer the phone with your glasses is available, and might take off when society is ready to see people wearing them everywhere.
Opening a door with a fingerprint is no longer a fantasy, and such locks can be found on Amazon. Pepsi Perfect, a vitamin-enriched cola, turned out to be Diet Coke Plus and 7Up with antioxidants. Both have also been discontinued. (Another miss: Doc gave Marty 50 dollars to buy the Pepsi – a can of soda is somewhere around a dollar today).
‘Instead of simply predicting the future, the movie may actually have shaped it’
Of course there are 80s coffee shops all around the world, but you’d have to go to Ningbo in the Zhejiang province in China to be waited on by robots. But robots already pump gas in the Netherlands and the US.
In the movie, Doc checks his smartwatch to see when the rain will stop, something you can do with an Apple Watch and a Dark Sky app.
Huge flatscreen TVs are ubiquitous and you can do video conferencing and even swipe a credit card in the comfort of your home.
Few of us would go as far as Doc with his body overhaul and replace inner organs as a regular part of healthcare, but it’s good to know it can be done in case of an emergency.
There are virtual windows, and there’s even a YouTube channel called Scenery Channel, like Jennifer McFly’s favorite.
But of all the inventions in the movie, the hoverboard – a skateboard that hovers above ground – has been the one most coveted by the Internet crowd. In fact, instead of simply predicting the future, the movie may actually have shaped it. Fans who dreamed of riding a hoverboard have grown up, taken jobs at tech companies and made their childhood dream come true.
In August, car manufacturer Lexus released a video of its hoverboard. It uses magnetic levitation technology, based on superconducting blocks sealed in reservoirs of liquid nitrogen, and hovers above a track inlaid with magnets. Unfortunately, only one such track exists, built specifically for Lexus.
Meanwhile, Hendo has started to deliver its betaboard, a miniature version of a hoverboard that uses engines to induce an opposing magnetic field towards a non-ferrous metal surface. Unfortunately, the engines only work for about fifteen minutes.
Of all the new inventions in the movies, two are nowhere to be seen. One is the tiny dehydrated pizza that expands into a family sized one in a hydrator.
The other is that double tie.
Well, maybe Marty McFly said it best in the first movie, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”
This story was originally published in Scandinavian Traveler.