Movies often miss their mark when it comes to predicting the future. I mean, where are our flying cars? I was promised flying cars. Having said that, there are several visionary films like Minority Report and 2001: A Space Odyssey that have managed to predict some aspects of technological innovation accurately. From predicting VR to self-driving cars, here’s a list of movies that were ahead of their time.
Robots – The Grim Game (1919)
The first robot made its debut on film before the term “robot” was even coined. In the Harry Houdini black-and-white silent film The Grim Game, we see a humanoid-looking “automaton” named Q.
We’ve since had numerous robots throughout history, but one relatively recent one that caught the attention of many is Sophia. The human-looking robot was developed by Hong-Kong company Hanson Robotics. She was activated in 2015 and is capable of speech coupled with 62 different facial expressions. The Saudi Arabian government thought she was so lifelike that they made her an honorary citizen in 2017.
Tablet – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey is a sci-fi classic that predicted numerous technological innovations. In the 1968 film, we see protagonist Dr. Dave Bowman watching videos on a tablet as he’s eating a meal aboard a space station.
Apple began popularizing the tablet form factor when it initially released the iPad in 2010. Now we have several computing tablets from Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and more.
AI Voice Assistant – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey also brought us HAL 9000, one of the greatest characters in sci-fi history. The AI assistant was capable of speech, facial recognition, and more. Oh, and it was hellbent on killing humans.
Apple famously released its own voice assistant in 2011 with the launch of Siri on iPhones. Now we have Android’s OK Google voice assistant and Amazon Alexa. The verdict is still out on whether these AI assistants will try to end us.
Digital Billboards – Blade Runner (1982)
The 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner is greatly revered for its evocative, neon-infused dystopian depiction of the future. Massive digital billboards playing videos were prominent throughout the movie’s cyberpunk world.
Flashforward to today and you have neon digital billboards offering video playback littered in areas such as Times Square in New York and Dotonbori in Japan.
Military Robots – Short Circuit (1986)
In the 1986 movie Short Circuit, a tech company prototypes robots for the U.S. military and ends up creating “Johnny 5.”
Now there are companies like Boston Dynamics that are designing robots for the U.S. military. Recently, the tech company released a video that went viral, which showcased a man trying to hold back a dog-like robot from opening a door. Despite some tugging from the man, which lead to minor robo dismemberment, the robot persisted until it accomplished its mission. Cool, or creepy?
Augmented Reality (AR) – RoboCop (1987)
After being shot up, police officer Alex J. Murphy finds himself on the brink of death in RoboCop. He’s saved when the government revives what’s left of him and augments his body with machinery. Among his enhancements is a visor that augments his vision. It displays grids, which help bolster his aim and provides additional info like mission objectives and video feeds.
Today we have augmented reality glasses like Google Glass and AR visors like HoloLens and Magic Leap that are in development.
Self-Lacing Shoes – Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future Part II showcased self-lacing Nike shoes. Fast forward to today and you have Nike shoes that look and function nearly identical to the ones in the movie. Okay, so maybe this is a case where a movie directly influences an invention.
Nike actually started working on the shoes in 2005, but the battery technology wasn’t ready at the time and it required bulky motors. As mobile technology improved, Nike resumed work on the shoes in 2012 before releasing them in 2016.
Hoverboard – Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Just about everybody wanted a hoverboard after Marty Mcfly rode one in Back to the Future Part II. Well, we have them now, kind of. Tech company Hendo successfully funded its Hoverboard Kickstater by raising over $500,000 through the crowd funding site. It works, too. I’ve tried it. The only caveat, and it’s a major one, is that it uses Maglev technology and thus requires a conductive metal floor. So unless you have access to a copper skate park, you probably won’t get to ride one any time soon.
Self-Driving Cars – Total Recall (1990)
In Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character rides in a self-driving Johnny Cab. The sci-fi taxi featured a talking robot driver. While that’s not a thing you can do today, self-driving cars are very real. Google has been testing them since 2009, and as of June 2016, the tech giant’s self-driving vehicles drove over 1.7 million miles. Many companies such as Nvidia, Tesla, and Uber are now working on self-driving car technology aimed at the mass-market.
VR Headset – The Lawnmower Man (1992)
In the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, Dr. Lawrence Angelo (played by Pierce Brosnan) experiments on a simple-minded gardener named Jobe Smith (played by Jeff Fahey) by strapping him to a virtual reality headset. The VR contraption dramatically improves Smith’s cognitive abilities. It also inadvertently gives him telepathic powers. An evil mastermind subplot ensues.
While we’ve yet to discover telepathic capabilities, we do have VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, PSVR, and HTC Vive. In addition to gaming, VR headsets are also helping autistic people developer better social skills and are assisting patients overcome psychological issues like PTSD.
Motion Sensing Input Devices – Minority Report (2002)
In the 2002-released movie Minority Report, actor Tom Cruise waves his hands and fingers in the air to control a gesture-based UI. Roughly eight years later in 2010, Microsoft would release the Kinect with an infrared projector that would allow the Xbox 360 to track user limbs in three-dimensional space. More advanced, subsequent devices like the Leap Motion and Microsoft’s very own second-generation Kinect would later add higher-fidelity finger tracking.
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