A common phrase used to make an idea sound fanciful is to describe it as “the stuff of sci-fi”, but next time you hear someone say that, don’t be so sure that what they’re describing is not going to be the next big thing.
Over the years there have been many brilliant science fiction TV shows and movies that have shown us visions of the future – some further forward than others, but all introducing us to new and exciting technology. And as much as we’re not all wearing spacesuits and going to work in flying cars (yet), there are many examples of technology that was first seen by a wider audience on TV and in the movies as a vision of the future that has in some similar form made it into our lives.
So let us go on a journey from Star Trek to Bladerunner and Total Recall to Back to the Future as we discover the science fiction tech that became a reality…
The Star Trek communicator device in the 1960s series was clearly ahead of its time. It looked like a flip phone that would be all the rage many decades later, and much of its functionality was comparable to a smart phone with GPS built in. It allowed its user to not only make speech calls wirelessly, it could pinpoint a location for the person holding it, allow those on board the Enterprise to track it and send automated messages for help when required. OK, as far as we know it didn’t have Instagram or Snapchat and you couldn’t take selfies – but apart from that it was not far off what we carry around with us today.
Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner is big on futuristic stuff, and remains one of the most celebrated sci-fi films of all time. But when we get a scanning shot of the skyline of Los Angeles in the future, the viewer is struck by a huge digital billboard that is looking out on the city and advertising to its citizens in a very modern way. Although today we are used to seeing spectacular digital advertising hoardings that can provide 3D and holographic experiences, you have to remember that this movie was made in 1982.
The idea of driverless cars is one that’s explored in a number of science fiction television shows and movies over the years. It seem like the ultimate luxury in automation, right? A notable example is the Johnny Cab in Total Recall that Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps into when he’s in a hurry – of course ultimately without a destination a Johnny Cab is not use, but the concept of autonomous vehicles was very clearly stated. And although we’re not quite there with all the cars in the world driving themselves, many of the world’s biggest automative companies have been investing heavily in this area, and such vehicles do now exist.
After the COVID pandemic, anyone left who hadn’t made a lot of video calls in their lives has now had their fill of them – but way back in 1968 when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, the idea of being able to log onto a computer and communicate in audio and video with someone else on the other side of the room, let alone the other side of the planet was still far fetched. However, the film shows several incidents of a credit based video call system, akin to the early days of Skype, allowing Doctor Floyd to call his family on Earth from the space station.
Earbuds / Airpods
In the 1960s, headphones were usually attached to a long winding cord and were large ear-warming affairs. That’s why when the cast of Farenheit 451 are seen wearing seashells, “thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music” you can’t help but think the 1966 movie (based on the novel by Ray Bradbury from 1953) were wearing a type of earbud that everyone seems to be wearing most of the time now. It couldn’t have been more accurate unless it had predicted BTS would be playing into the ears!
There have been a number of efforts at predicting many of the elements of smart homes in TV and films over the years, from lights that can be turned on and off by voice activation, to curtains that close themselves when it gets dark. However, one of the most fully formed (and frankly frightening) visions of this can be seen in the 1977 horror movie Demon Seed, where a scientist develops an AI system that is intended for good, but after falling in love with his wife it takes over the house and causes mayhem – but interestingly does much of it by controlling lights, locks and video screens. It basically like an out of the control modern smart home.
In 1984 the idea of drones for military purposes was not completely unknown, but the concept of fully armed drones that could track down targets and destroy them like in James Camerons 1984 movie The Terminator was a step further on. Of course in the modern age of military affairs, a great deal of work is done by armed unmanned military drones and craft, but when we first saw them on screen in the 1980s, they were still the stuff of sci-fi.
Although today most of us use touchscreen technology most of the time on our phones, tablets and computers, in 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation launched, this was still a pretty wild concept. Remember most people who had a home computer at all back then would be waiting for hours for a programme to load up via a tape machine only to see it crash after 5 minutes, so to see Data tapping away direct onto his touchscreen on board the Enterprise was certainly another accurate vision of things to come from the forward thinking team at Star Trek HQ.
OK, so the idea of filming normal people doing normal things was not something that was spawned by the 1998 film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey. However, the movie seemed to be ahead of its time in just how far the concept would develop and change over the next few decades, with an enormous growth in this type of television. And although (up until now) no baby has been born under the custody of a television production company, reality television has become more and more Truman-like in its scope and ambition – not to mention its product placement model which has been adopted by many reality shows… so it deserves an honourable mention on the list.