Back to the Future Day

Today is “Back to the Future Day,” the day Marty McFly travels forward to in the 1989 movie, the second in the series.

Like all futurist movies, “Back to the Future” wasn’t meant to be a forecast. Many of its future elements — the flying cars, the garbage-powered fusion — were meant more as jokes on futurist tropes.

The movie succeeds in some of its forecasts by simply envisioning what might be useful — a legitimate futures technique, when married with a sense of plausible timeframes. Thus, we see a news drone filming live shots. The movie also foresaw ubiquitous connectivity, but based it on the exciting new technology of … fax machines. In fact, these would spread, peak, and then recede between the movie’s release and today.

Curiously, an item thrown in as pure fantasy, the hoverboard, has so appealed to people that a minor industry now churns out faux versions such as the self-balancing skateboard and the mini-helicopter hover contraption. Though the real thing still defies our command of physics, this is a great example of science fiction inspiring actual innovation.

And see this video for a bit of futurist wisdom from the movie’s designer, John Bell. In the 11th item, it cites his “15/85 rule,” that items in the future scenes should be 15% unrecognizable and 85% recognizable, to provide a comprehensible future.

This raises the question: how long a time period can the 15/85 rule realistically remain true in a sphere of study? It might be 10 years for electronics but 100 for geopolitics.

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