The Future is Now

Jumping gigawatts! Today, the future has arrived! If you were around in 1989, Oct. 21, 2015, may have seemed light-years away, and you might have thought we would all be riding around in flying cars or something. Well, your imagination isn’t as far-fetched as you think.

On this day, Marty McFly jumped through time to arrive in the future – Oct. 21, 2015, to be exact – in the film “Back to the Future II” (1989) to save his future son from going to prison. While fixing one thing, McFly and trusted friend Doc Brown create numerous other problems in this zany sci-fi adventure that has become a cult classic, along with the other two movies in the trilogy.

What really stands out are the fantastical predictions the movie made for a point in time some 25 years later. And, some have actually since come true. While we don’t yet have flying cars, self-lacing shoes” or “Jaws 19,” and fax machines are actually becoming a passé technology, we do have such advancements as video phones, flat screen and smart TVs, virtual-reality goggles, holograms and fingerprint technology and voice control systems and software. And, yes, people still do drink Pepsi.

And, while “Back to the Future II” predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the 2015 MLB World Series, the baseball team is currently in the playoffs, so that’s something, right?

Futuristic air travel, by Harry Grant Dart. Between 1900 and 1910. Prints and Photographs Division.

Futuristic air travel. Drawing by Harry Grant Dart. Between 1900 and 1910. Prints and Photographs Division.

Recently, the movie had me thinking about other predictions and inventions that were ahead of their time, so I mined the Library’s collections for historical examples of “future” advancements.

The dream of human flight was made a reality thanks to the Wright brothers’ invention of the first powered heavier-than-air flying machine in 1903. However plenty of others before and after the noted duo had their own ideas of what flight would look like – all of which are a far cry from today’s airplanes.

This 1882 lithograph by French artist Albert Robida even depicts aircraft in the form of buses, limousines and police patrol cars. Perhaps “Back To The Future II” wasn’t completely ahead of its time.

Robida produced a trilogy of books with a futuristic outlook, and his imagined social developments ended up being quite accurate: feminism, mass tourism and pollution, among others. His writings describe modern warfare, including robotic missiles and poison gas. And his future world revolves around the “téléphonoscope,” a flat screen television display that delivered the latest news and entertainment 24-hours a day,

A common theme among futuristic predictions is architecture. The Library’s collections contain several examples.

This rendering of a 150-story office building, sketched by Cass Gilbert in 1905, was truly a vision of a century later. The current tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa, built in 2010 in Dubai, at 163 floors.

Other images foreshadow tall skyscrapers and highways, display a “house of the future,” advertise a $15,000,000 residential and shopping development in Washington, D.C. designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and highlight spaceship-looking buildings in Texas.


"Starship Pegasus," a failed futuristic restaurant and gift shop in in Italy, Texas. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Sept. 9, 2014. Prints and Photographs Division.

“Starship Pegasus,” a failed futuristic restaurant and gift shop in in Italy, Texas. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Sept. 9, 2014. Prints and Photographs Division.

As far as technology, we have since seen three-dimensional filmscolor televisions and phone booths.

Another good resource of futuristic imagery is the Library’s collection of world’s fair imagery, which often featured state-of-the-art science and technology from around the world.

While “Back to the Future II” was a source for future contemplations, what other films have made assumptions that came to fruition?

 Sources: “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” by Philippe Willems 


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