You can yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” all you want, the only thing that will happen is you’ll elicit a bunch of bemused stares from passersby wondering if you’ve bonked your head recently. The sad fact is human teleportation devices don’t yet exist in 2013, and even if they did, the tremendous lag would make it extraordinarily impractical. Such is the reality of science that it doesn’t always mesh with our fantastic visions of fictional futures filled with flying cars and other implausible technologies. In other words, reality sucks compared to what we’ve grown up watching on television.
That doesn’t mean Hollywood got it all wrong, however. Take a look around you and you’ll notice quite a few inventions that not only don’t suck, but some of which were predicted by movie makers decades ago. You can draw a parallel, for example, between swiping and gestures in Minority Report versus today’s touchscreen computing and motion-controlled sensors like the Kinect. The further back you go in the movie archives, the more interesting these parallels become.
Join us as we look back at 16 films that, for the most part, correctly predicted future technologies in use today.
Wearable Computing – Back to the Future II (1989)
The Back to the Future franchise got some things right and many things wrong, but one that falls into the former category is wearable computing. The glasses you see the McFly family donning at the dinner table serve as a precursor to Google Glass and even the Oculus Rift, which themselves are both in their infancy. Sadly, toy hoverboards still don’t exist – drats!
Naked Body Scanners – Aeroplane II: The Sequel (1982)
Among all the mishaps and far fetched scenarios presented in Aeroplane II, a film you’ll apt to either love or hate, intrusive full body scanners revealing passengers’ naked bits seemed so silly at the time you couldn’t help but laugh. Almost three decades later, nobody found it funny when the TSA actually implemented nude image scanners at airports. They’ve since been removed.
Self Driving Cars – Total Recall (1990)
Arnold Schwarzenegger played the part of Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who couldn’t stop dreaming about Mars and one of its female inhabitants. The film is a sci-fi exploration of virtual reality, but one scene that sticks out involves self-driving taxis known as Johnny Cabs. Today, Google is one of the biggest advocates of autonomous cars, and there are now three states where self-driven cars are legal for testing purposes.
Skype – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s vision of our modern day world is eerily accurate on so many accounts, we could fill an entire gallery with just this film alone. Sure, the video phone looks rudimentary by today’s standards, but the underlying concept is undeniably Skype-like. Space tourism, tablet computing, and personal TVs embedded into aeroplane seats also appeared in the film.
Home Automation – Electric Dreams (1984)
This one’s admittedly a stretch, but in Electric Dreams, it’s man versus machine during the dawn of the PC era when hardly anyone knew anything about computers. That would explain why it seemed so scary that a PC could take over the home and control the lights, lock doors, and so forth. We’ve since learned to peacefully coexist with PCs, and home automation is a wonderful thing.
Touch Interface – Minority Report (2002)
There have been so many comparisons of real-life technologies to those portrayed in Minority Report that we almost hate to give the flick yet another mention, but if compiling a list like this, it’s only fair to include it. After all, the movie did accurately predict gestures (like swiping) and touchscreen computing being the norm, not the exception. Let’s hope predicative policing isn’t next.
Military Robots – Short Circuit (1986)
It’s easy to fall in love with Johnny 5, the wise cracking robot from Short Circuit. However, he was built with a more serious matter in mind — as a prototype military robot. Now we have unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) that can operate autonomously and without the risk of gaining sentience if struck by lightning. Equip one with Siri and you have the modern day Johnny 5.
Space Travel – Woman in the Moon (1929)
Man didn’t land on the moon until 1969, but 40 years prior, the silent film Woman in the Moon showed what it might be like. There was a multi-stage rocket, a media frenzy at the launch event, and a countdown leading up to the anticipated event. Well played, Fritz Lang.
Robot Assisted Surgery – Sleeper (1973)
Woody Allen is a lot of things, but he’s not a doctor. However, he masqueraded as one in Sleeper, a wild comedy that attempts to take a nostalgic look at the future. In one scene, a talking computer offers analysis and suggestions during surgery. Many years later, it’s not uncommon for surgeons to use remote-controlled robotics to assist with surgery.
Smartphones/PDAs – Star Trek: The Original Series (1966)
Every Star Trek fan is familiar with the Tricorder, a handheld device that records data, analyses data, and is used for sensor scanning. Do you know what else can do those things? Smartphones! We’re not saying they’re the same device by any means, but given all the things today’s smartphones can do and the wide selection of apps available, the Tricorder is, in some respects, a forerunner of today’s mobile gadgets.
Digital Billboards – Blade Runner (1982)
A jaunt through the cityscape in Blade Runner reveals a world in which digital billboards are fairly ubiquitous. We’re not quite there yet, but digital billboards are certainly more common today than in the 1980s. If you live in a big city, you may even see a trailer for Blade Runner 2 on a digital billboard, which is in the works with a script that includes several of the original characters.
War Driving – WarGames (1983)
Years before the Internet would became a mainstream thing, WarGames offered up a glimpse of what to beware of in a connected world, including general hacking, cyber warfare, and war dialling (using a modem to scan a list of telephone numbers), which would later lead to wardriving (driving around looking for Wi-Fi networks). WarGames is also the first movie to use the term “firewall.”
Robot Vacuum – The Jetsons (1962)
No, we’re not commuting to work in flying cars or eating entire meals in pill form, but several technologies in The Jetsons were ahead of their time. There was video chat, tanning beds, a TeleViewer (similar to an iPad), and of course automated vacuum machines, a cartoony predecessor to the iRobot Roomba.
Home Genetic Testing – Gattaca (1997)
The corporate world hasn’t yet descended to DNA tests in place of job interviews as portrayed in Gattaca, nor does a birthing doctor give you a rundown of all the ailments your newborn baby is likely to suffer, along with a precise age expectancy. You can, however, pick up home DNA tests (23andme) to get a heads up on your genetic health risks.
3D Printing at Home – Weird Science (1985)
There’s a loose connection between the 1985 movie Weird Science and 3D printing, but a connection nonetheless. In the movie, two teens with raging hormones create the “perfect” woman using a computer and a plastic Barbie doll. With a 3D printer today, you too could create Kelly LeBrock in your home using a PC and some plastic. It’d only be a replica, but who knows what will be possible in another 28 years or so.
Siri – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
We know we already mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey on this list, but the iconic HAL 9000 robot from the movie easily deserves its own slide. For fans of the movie, the phrase “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” will forever portray the idea of robot evilness. Like with HAL, you can converse with Apple’s Siri program if you have an iPhone. Hopefully Apple’s device won’t be half as evil.
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