It’s Back to the Future day: were the predictions right?

Support us and go ad-free

In classic ‘80s science fiction film Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly travels 30 years into the future – to 21 October 2015. Flying cars, dehydrated pizzas and Jaws 19 aren’t as familiar as the filmmakers thought they would be, but what did they get right?

The technology seemed unbelievable to the film buffs of 1989, and some of it still does. We still need roads, our clothes don’t adjust to the size of our bodies (or dry themselves automatically) and the weather service isn’t that much better than it was 30 years ago. But some of the film’s predictions have had an even more significant impact than we could have expected. Here are three sci-fi technologies that are already changing the way we live.

Fuel made from food waste

When Doc Brown flies in from the future, his iconic DeLorean no longer runs on plutonium but on food waste. We might not be able to power a flying car with a banana skin and a swig of old beer, but biogas made from food waste is already making big waves around the world. Some waste-to-energy (WtE) systems called anaerobic digesters rely on bacteria to break down organic waste, producing fuels like methane and ethanol.

Anaerobic digester
Anaerobic digesters like this one in New Mexico can produce methane and ethanol from waste biomass. Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.

Since we waste around 30% of the food produced worldwide, this has huge potential as a source of fuel. One of the sticking points of the technology is the relatively high carbon emissions: carbon dioxide is produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process and released directly into the atmosphere.

Anaerobic digesters are particularly useful in developing countries, where smallholder farmers can produce low-cost fuel using waste products from their farms. The United Nations provides funding for anaerobic digestion projects that aim to reduce carbon emissions through its Clean Development Mechanism.

So although our cars aren’t sporting a Mr. Fusion home fuel tank for food scraps, we’re making strides to turn food waste into fuel, rather than piling it up in landfill.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Techy telephone calls

When Marty’s future self receives a phone call in Back to the Future II, the whole family sees who’s on the other end of the line, through their hi-tech glasses that have digital displays. As if mobile phones haven’t had a big enough impact, wearable technology is transforming the way we communicate to an even greater extent.

Google Glass
Blogger and entrepreneur Loïc Le Meur tested Google Glassr. Image: Loic Le Meur/Flickr.

Released for testing by “Glass Explorers” in 2013, Google Glass is a type of head mounted optical technology that enables you to connect to the internet using voice control and interact with information in a smartphone-like format. It lets you check the weather, read the news and track your phone calls, all on a visual display. We can also wear information technology on our wrists: with smart watches – like the Apple Watch – you can not only tell the time, but swipe through emails, take phone calls and many other things. And the latest in the wearables trend (and possibly the most frivolous piece of technology I’ve ever seen) is the Ringly, which will vibrate and light up when you receive a call.

Back to the film. When Marty takes that call, the caller pops up on a big TV screen. Video calls are the norm today – we Skype and FaceTime with friends, family and colleagues around the world for free. Skype’s 300 million users spend a combined 3 billion minutes on video calls every day. And video calling is getting more interactive all the time; earlier this year, Samsung released a video – the world’s first live virtual reality birth using the Samsung Gear VR – that’s already had more than 14 million views on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PpKzYjW7go

Autonomous (dog walking) flying machines

In Back to the Future Part II’s 2015, people don’t walk their dogs – autonomous flying machines do it for them. For New York-based videographer Jeff Myers, drones are perfect for dog walking duties. His video Walking Dogs With Drones made quite a splash last year, making his golden retriever quite the canine celebrity:

Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – have had more of an impact than just helping out with chores. They were largely confined to military use in the 1980s but drones are now close to being household technology: Business Insider UK estimates the drone market will be worth almost $100 million over the next decade. Drones have been pretty popular among consumers, with the simple models costing less than $100.

Drone
Drones are fast becoming household technology. Image: Richard Unten/Flickr.

Where there’s a successful technology, there are bound to be business applications too. Drones have huge potential for companies, which are estimated to account for 12% of the drones market over the next ten years. Google is looking at drones to replace snail mail and Easyjet has already tested them to inspect aircraft. One key application is in replacing people in dangerous or remote areas: inspecting hazardous sites like Fukushima and surveying large plots of land becomes much easier with drones.

30 years from now…

Some of the other technologies that featured in the film are on the verge of being available. Hoverboards (which, let’s face it, we’d all like to try out) are around, but at the moment they’re prohibitively expensive – take the $10,000 steerable Hendo Hoverboard, for example.

And the self-lacing Nikes? Not on the market yet, unfortunately. Give it 30 years and we might be skidding around a few inches off the ground, wearing seriously retro-looking shoes.

Featured image: JD Hancock/Flickr.

 

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed