Back to Now

Today, October 15th 2015, is the date Marty McFly travelled to in the movie Back to the Future 2 (1992). Its not everyday we get to live the exact day of a future prediction so lets have some fun and have a look at what we thought 2015 would look like. 

Hover boards are probably the most mentioned future prediction from the movie. Sadly, with the exception of a few lucky individuals we aren't (yet) riding on hover boards, and its definitely not kids playing with them these days. But in some sense the movie had a point, while many hover boards that could hover in place have been developed in the past, this year has seen the first real hover board by Lexus. And it gets some bonus points because this one actually works over water! And its not just the actual hover board that draws a parallel to today. It is also the cult surrounding the idea of a hover board. 2015 has also been the year in which an auto balancing two wheeled scooter gained popularity, which is often (incorrectly) referred to as a hoverboard. But riding them, or hover boards certainly isn't common place like it is in the move, as the arrest of Wiz Khalifa for riding one of the aforementioned two wheeled scooters attests to. 

The fashion in Back to the Future 2 may have looked very futuristic at the time, to us it mostly just looks like the 1980s. While to overal aesthetic may have been a total miss, there were some interesting features that were some relatively accurate predictions. For one Nike is releasing a shoe like the one in the movie with auto lacing sneakers this year (they already released a replica last year but without auto lacing). And we are also in the process of developing clothes that shape around its wearer, which in a way reminds us of the auto adjusting sleeves of Marty’s jacket. Unfortunately self drying jackets still don't exist (especially for us Dutchies riding our bikes everywhere). 

While it got many technological innovations somewhat right, it featured Google Glas like glasses, dog walking drones, and it was rightly anticipated media would pretty much rule our world, there was one very important piece of technology missing. The mobile phone. Or rather, the smartphone. No one in the street was looking down at a screen, people were still reading papers (bonus: the paper predicted lady Di to be visiting the US in 2015). The lack of mobile phones may be one of the biggest failures of the movie, mobile phones, while rare, did already exist at the time the movie was made. And so did pagers, which could have easily been an inspiration for a more complex type of sending text messages. No one talking or sending messages on some kind of a mobile device is thus quite a big miss. Another interesting one, although I would not quite call it a huge miss, maybe just a big one, is the fax mailboxes on the street (see image) providing us with a good laugh now that we can “fax” without having to have a physical copy (read: email). While early versions of email existed in private networks, mostly for the army, it wasn't until 1993 it was integrated into the public internet. 

If anything Back to the Future is a perfect illustration of two phenomena, our cultural blindspot when it comes to the future and our optimism bias. The example of the mobile phones shows how big our cultural blindspot can be. We’ve probably all seen those videos of street interviews when mobile phones just came out. Most people thought they would never get one, they didn't want to be disturbed all day every day, and they didn't see the need. Today they are an essential part of our communication. At the same time we also tend to overestimate the technological progress we will make, we still don't have any cars flying around. This is the optimism bias at work. But who wants a flying car we still have to drive ourselves when we can have a car we no longer have to drive and have our hands (and eyes) free to send work emails or text friends and family from our mobile phones. 

*This isn't an exhaustive list of all technologies in the movie, not by far. We selected the examples most interesting to us.