The Future Revisited
Issue: Volume 38 Issue 6: (Nov/Dec 2015)

The Future Revisited

The year was 1989. And the future had arrived!

On October 21, 2015, people across the US were celebrating Back to the Future II, or more specifically, the future as depicted in that movie when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) set their time-travel clock to October 21, 2015.

The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who later devised a digital process that mapped facial performances from real-life actors onto CG characters for such feature films as The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol

Industrial Light & Magic also played an important role in the film, using digital compositing and the VistaGlide portable motion-control dolly system with video playback. It enabled an actor to play two or more parts in a single scene, with a computer controlling the pan, tilt, focus, zoom, and split line during each pass – perfect for scenes that included the “current” and “future” versions of the characters side by side and interacting with their other self.

So, let’s start our adventure in 1989. What was life actually like? As far as computers were concerned, Intel rolled out the 486 series of microprocessor, paving the way for the first release of Microsoft Office. Nintendo released the 8-bit Game Boy system. The first GPS satellites were put into orbit. Florida and Virginia permitted the use of DNA genetic fingerprinting evidence in court. Leather blazers and paisley ties were popular men’s clothing items. In sports, the Oakland Athletics swept the World Series, beating the San Francisco Giants. 

Before we look ahead (or, rather, in the “movie” version of the present), it should be noted that predicting the future is not easy (obviously), and Zemeckis had stated in various interviews that coming up with the futuristic concepts in the movie was his least favorite part of making the film. So, the focus was on humor rather than science when devising the scenarios. That said, the filmmakers did introduce some out-of-this-world technology in the movie, but they also had concepts that hit the bull’s-eye. 

In Zemeckis’ imagined 2015, hoverboards were the cool mode of teen transportation. Well, they got that right – you can get yours now at Amazon, Target, and other retailers, although they lag in functionality to those in the movie. Flying cars? Nope, we still do not have them, but then again, they sure made the movie cool. 

Drones, yup. They will be one of the big gifts under the tree this year. Giant wide-picture, flat-screen TVs with multiple-channel display – oh yes! 

Video chat systems, hands-free video game systems, wearable technology, and head-mounted displays? Yes to all, particularly that last one, with the Oculus Rift and other gear heading for stores shortly (the other holiday favorite). The Wii and Kinect give us hands-free gaming, and TVs today are getting larger, giving us higher resolutions, and getting cheaper each year. We even have 3D televisions!

Thumbprint payment? Apple has us covered with its novel payment system, while fingerprint scanning gains us access to many things, even Disney parks. But a phone booth readily accessible along the sidewalks, as shown in the movie? Nope, mobile phones take care of that need in the real 2015.

As for high-tech goggles, try out Google Glass. Fax machines everywhere? Nope, they became obsolete with the “digital fax,” scans, and e-mails. Just try to escape your boss – not so easy with smartphones. 3D holographic technology may not be used every day, but we do have it and see it every year at SIGGRAPH. Getting news from
newspapers? Digital publications and the Internet have certainly influenced this practice.

The Chicago Cubs winning the 2015 World Series? Against Miami? Today, there are the Marlins, but when the movie debuted, neither the Miami Marlins (nor the Tampa Bay Rays) existed. Alas, the Cubs’ hopes were dashed during the playoffs, making this outcome way off base. 

As for clothing, casual athletic apparel is indeed trendy in 2015 (albeit without self-lacing shoes). Wearing double ties? That trend has not caught on. Wearing your clothes inside out? Not really a current fashion trend, either. 

Pepsi and Pizza Hut are still iconic brands in 2015, though a hydrated pizza is not on the menu. However, the voice activation feature on the hydrator can be found in multiple machines, including your phone – Hello, Siri. 

Want to order a Pepsi? Marty does it without a waiter; today, customers at Chili’s and other restaurants can order tableside via tablets. No actual person is needed, until it’s time to deliver the items to customers. 

Jaws 19 might have been playing at the Holomax in the film, but the big movie of 2015 involved a dinosaur ( Jurassic World) rather than a shark. 

While some of the movie’s wild predictions hit their mark, others did not. Nevertheless, the cool factor is still present, two and a half decades later.