If you answered things that make our lives easier, you’d be mostly right (though anyone who’s ever tried to get out of a water bed with a hangover might disagree). But there’s actually a far more interesting link: all, it transpires, were predicted well ahead of their time. Take a look at this extract and see if you recognise the description:
“He would plug his Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports. One by one, he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; a postage-sized rectangle would expand till it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. One could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information.”
Definitely an iPad, right? But no. These words were penned by legendary sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke in his book 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which was published in 1968 – decades ahead of anything resembling a tablet, online news or the internet! In fact, his description was so dead-on that Samsung used it in defence of its Galaxy tablet when Apple sued for patent infringement.
But accurate predictions go back far further than that: in 1900, Mr Watkins – a relative non-entity writing for the Ladies’ Home Journal – suggested that, within 100 years: “Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots will be published in the newspapers an hour later.”
Fascinating stuff – and almost undreamt of at the time. But why are these prognostications important now, of all times?
Today is the day!
Well, today is October 21, 2015. And if that date means nothing to you, you’re obviously too young – or too serious – to have ever taken note of one of the biggest movie dates in history: the day Marty McFly went Back to the Future. The future – as envisaged by director Robert Zemeckis – has now finally arrived. And with it, much of the tech that, when the film came out, seemed beyond the realm of imagination…
Released in 1989, the second instalment in the franchise saw Marty time travel 26 years into a future brimming with out-there inventions and revolutionary tech. Video conferencing, outsize televisions, thumbprint payment and drone cameras were just some of the radical ideas that appeared in the world of 2015, along with multi-channel viewing, self-lacing sneakers (Nike has them in production, apparently) and something that looks suspiciously akin to Google glasses.
But the stand-out, have-to-have-it, futuristic item that sent kids into a frenzy and crashed the phone lines at Mattel, was Marty’s hoverboard. A piece of technology so simple, so revolutionary and so undeniably fun, that companies have – for the last 25 years – desperately been trying to create it. Alas, the date has rolled around and no one has yet managed to produce a working model. Last year, Silicon Valley start-up Hendo claimed to have crafted a real hoverboard, inviting skateboard legend Tony Hawk to give it a whirl and starting a Kickstarter fund for further development. In August, Lexus unveiled its own version, which uses quantum locking to allow users to ride a preordained track in a false concrete floor. And, while Crealev have released a hoverboard that actually ‘hovers’ most realistically thanks to its system of magnets, the device can’t actually be ridden. Though it does look good on the shelf!
Tech from tv
Of course, while the predictions for October 21, 2015 might have been mind-blowing for a kid from the eighties – who didn’t thrill to the spectacle of the Jaws hologram snapping at Marty’s head? – these days, we take much of our advances for granted, barely recalling – if we ever knew – that much of our everyday tech first saw the light of day in films, books and tv series.
Star Trek has given us the communicator (scarily akin to mobile phones), Bluetooth, flatscreen tv and the medical tricorder – all of which have appeared in real life since the original series launched in the 1960s. The Jetsons – released in 1962 and set 100 years in the future, accurately predicted such trivial – and now commonplace – items as moving walkways and the tanning bed. In 1974, The Six Million Dollar Man featured a protagonist with superhuman bionic limbs; today, neuroscientists have created artificial limbs that can be controlled purely by the mind. 1980’s cartoon Inspector Gadget showed one of the characters using a ‘computer book’, a wireless handheld device with a search engine and GPS. And a 1995 episode of The Simpsons shows Lisa’s fiancé using his watch to make a phone call – almost 20 years prior to the launch of the ‘smart watch’!
And we mustn’t forget the waterbed – now associated more with dodgy bachelors and adult films (often simultaneously!) than futuristic predictions. Described so accurately in Heinlein’s bestseller Stranger in a Strange Land that the eventual inventor had huge trouble securing a patent for his squelchy creation, the waterbed has since fallen out of use. Which makes one wonder – if we’re currently achieving, surpassing and discarding fictional futuristic tech – what’s up next? Personally, I’d happily trade any fictional innovation for a working hoverboard. But, unless someone’s specifically been waiting for October 15, 2015 to give me a thrilling surprise, it seems I’ll have to be content with my iPad, laptop and credit card. For now…
Any news on the hoverboard? Let me know – comment below!
The full text originally appeared in The Sunday Mail