Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 25 October 2015





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Government Gazette

Back to the future

Remember Back to the Future, the famous movie in which mad scientist Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and maverick young adventurer Marty McFly (Micheal J Fox) travel to the future? In the second part of this well known movie franchise that was released 30 years ago, the world in 2015 was depicted to be having hoverboards, flying cars, life-like holographic displays, drones, video conferencing, portable fusion power and several other inventions which were unthinkable back then. Incidentally, they travelled to October 21, 2015, which was celebrated last week around the world as Back to the Future Day.

Did the filmmakers predict 2015 correctly? They did, to some extent. Two types of hover-boards actually exist, but they are not yet available for sale to the public. One is made by Lexus and the other by a Californian company called Hendo. The technology will no doubt be perfected in around five years, so that is one prediction they got right.

Flying cars also do exist, though they are not obviously in everyday use. Terrafugia's updated flying car will find the first buyers around 2017 and several other manufacturers are bringing their own designs to the table. Flying cars too should be common in around 20 years' time.


Video conferencing via the Internet is not only common, but is also free for all intents and purposes. Anyone with a smartphone can make video calls now. Holographic displays are getting better all the time and they are even talking about glassless 3D TV displays (Toshiba already has one). Incidentally, director Robert Zemeckis correctly also predicted the rise of the flat-screen TVs, which have almost entirely replaced CRT TVs now. (Flat screen Plasma technology, itself obsolete now, was nascent at the time so it was not very difficult to guess).

Drones have come a long way since they were first seen in the film. Military drones are highly advanced devices which can actually fire on an intended target but civilian drones are getting increasingly sophisticated and are widely used in photography.

A still from Back To The Future                                               pic.

Nike is getting ready to release shoes with power laces as seen in the film (Nike also designed the pair actually used in the film). Iris and fingerprint recognition devices, depicted in the film, are also common now. The film also got another prediction right - the tablet computer.

A major invention that featured in Back to the Future II was the Black & Decker Hydrator. This was a kitchen device that could turn raisins back into grapes and stale pizza into a freshly delivered snack.


Food 3D printers already exist on a limited scale and NASA is already experimenting with 3D printed food for missions to Mars and beyond. However, we are still a long way off from any form of fusion power, leave alone portable fusion power that works off garbage. But scientists are working on it and it could be a possible source of power within the next 50 years at least.

The Back to the Future anniversary has created another craze - predicting life 30 years from now - in 2045. Granted, some of us will not be around by that time, but it is always interesting to read the future. When 2045 comes, people will be able to check how many of those predictions have come true.

Given the rapid rate of technological progress, it is easy to guess some of these such as driverless cars (they already exist on an experimental basis), hydrogen powered cars (already being manufactured on a small scale), flying cars, bionic individuals (many organs will have artificial equivalents and some organs already do), longevity treatments (the first person to live beyond 150 has most likely been born already) and the eradication of many more diseases. Even a cure for cancer does not seem to be a difficult challenge.


It is also fairly easy to guess that the world in 2045 will be highly wired, with internet speeds that we can barely imagine now. Physical media such as blu-ray will still exist, but only just.

It is still hard to imagine where television will be in 30 years, but it will be much different. The Internet of Things, where almost every device from the TV to the refrigerator is connected, is already well established in advanced developed countries and it can only get bigger and better in 30 years. One cannot imagine the shape and form of smartphones, but expect foldable displays to be commonplace.

Artificial intelligence will be a really big thing by 2045, with machines and robots that can virtually think for themselves. Whether they will be able to experience human emotions is another matter altogether. But household robots could be common by 2045, given that robotic gadgets such as vacuum cleaners are already in the market.

It will also be possible to fuse biological and artificial nerves together. Renewable power sources will also be a major component of our energy grids, with fossil fuels on the way out literally (not counting reserves held by some countries, the oil supply is slated to run out by around 2060).

Nanotechnology will give us technologies now unheard of, while new materials will literally alter the shape of all our structures from buildings to cars. Smart cities will also exist by this time, with at least preliminary work done on undersea communities. We should have travelled to Mars by 2045, as depicted in the film Martian starring Matt Damon.


Predicting the future is a very tricky business, because inventions take place at an alarming rate. Just 30 years ago if someone said that CRT TVs would be almost totally wiped out by 2015, no one would have believed him. Yet it has happened today. But with certain evolving technologies, we know what will happen in the future, such as driverless cars, which are already possible. There will always be people like our very own Sir Arthur C. Clarke who have an uncanny ability to predict the future. Science fiction, in the form of books and movies, will remain the only other alternative for getting a glimpse of the future which we are reaching with every passing second.



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