It’s the twenty-first century. Am I the only person who thought we’d all be riding around on hoverboards by now? Science fiction and popular culture have long painted The Future as a place with magical technology that can solve all of our problems, as well as a place with aliens. Or at least robots. As we look back on our forward-thinking television shows and films, some of the tomorrows they envisioned were surprisingly prescient. But the world is still waiting on a few of these laughable innovations.
The Futures That Came to Pass …
A Pregnant Man
Although the 1994 film Junior was not technically sci-fi, it envisioned a future of reproductive technology so advanced that a man could carry a baby to term. Amazingly, it was only a few short years later when, in 1999, the first female-to-male transsexual gave birth to a child.
In Total Recall, Mars-bound travelers were forced to walk through a security scanner that could see all the way through to their skeletons. Today, many airplane passengers have to pass through a very similar scanner, designed to check for weapons or explosives. However, in the 1990 version of the future, the scanner generated only pictures of bones, whereas today’s version brings up the far creepier image of naked bodies.
Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Who could blame a ’60s housewife for wishing that a friendly android would do all her sweeping? Although modern homekeepers may not have friendly robot helpers like Rosie from The Jetsons, they can always get a Roomba—a real-life programmable robot vacuum cleaner.
In the Star Trek series, characters used personal devices called “communicators” to contact each other or their ship. Although the technology the series portrayed was far ahead of our twenty-first-century cellular capabilities, the concept is virtually identical to today’s mobile phones.
In 2005’s Minority Report, Tom Cruise walks through a shopping mall where the advertisements all cater to him, even recognizing him by name and preferences. Although we’re still stuck with old-fashioned billboards, modern advertising is moving closer and closer to this personalized reality. Already, online advertisements are able to recognize a user’s location and browser history, serving up ads that are deemed most relevant to him or her.
In 1998, the idea of a man’s life being unwittingly broadcast as a television show was futuristic and creepy, but just a short few years later, The Truman Show didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Almost immediately, shows like Big Brother, Survivor, and Fear Factor harnessed the intense voyeurism that the film parodied.
And a Few That Didn’t …
In 1981, America’s cities were centers of decay, violence, crime, and blight, and films like Escape from New York envisioned a world where urban centers became virtual prisons. In fact, cities have seen crime rates drop and populations rise as young people flock to opportunities there. Far from being drug-infested hellscapes, America’s biggest cities have never been safer, more productive, or more appealing.
Despite their wizardry with mathematical calculations and simple tasks, computers are nowhere near as intelligent or capable as movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey portray them to be. Today, even the most technologically advanced forms of artificial intelligence are able only to fold shirts or navigate staircases. They are nowhere near being able to read lips, plan murder, or engage in the reasoning and high-level strategizing HAL displayed.
The year is 1999, and in the film Soylent Green, the world is choked by crowding, pollution, global warming, poverty, and food shortages. One giant corporation produces the processed-food rations that most of the populace depends on for survival. This scenario may not sound implausible, but thankfully, the idea of euthanizing humans for food in order to control the population remains a fantasy.
The World Champion Chicago Cubs
Although there are many things about Back to the Future: Part II that have (sadly) not come to pass—such as hoverboards, instant pizza, and flying cars—the most hilariously unthinkable prediction in the film is that the Lovable Losers would win the 2015 World Series. Although the idea is just as funny in 2011 as it was when the movie was made in 1989, maybe we shouldn’t speak too soon—the Cubbies do have a few years left to prove us all wrong.
Some movies portray the future as a world of chaos and despair. Some portray it as a place with advanced technology and world peace. Whatever the future holds, the truth is that it’ll probably look nothing like utopia or chaos; instead, it’ll look a whole lot like the present. But our fingers are still crossed that there will be more robots.