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Science-fiction futuristic films have always tried to make accurate predictions about society and technology in the future, but do they get it right, and what aids do they use in extrapolating ideas ahead of their time?

Hail 2019, where neo-noir science fiction film Blade Runner takes place, even though the movie was created 37 years ago in 1982. Starring Harrison Ford, Blade Runner is a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).

Set in a dystopian future of Los Angeles 2019, the film has influenced many science-fiction films, video games, anime, and television series. Did Blade Runner predict anything that exists today? Video calling using a phone booth to communicate makes an appearance in Blade Runner, but today phone booths hardly exist. However, with Skype launching in 2003, this was a pretty good prediction. Since then, almost every smartphone has been designed to include a FaceTime feature, as have apps such as Facebook Messenger. Blade Runner also explores the use of voice commands to control computers, which is something we can do through voice-activated personal assistants Siri, Alexa, Google, and Cortana.

Here are some advancements sci-fi has gotten right, well, sort of:

  • Driverless Cars. Total Recall (1990) and I, Robot (2004). Today’s driverless cars are just debuting in company products such as Tesla Autopilot and Waymo’s self-driving Google car project.
  • Tablets. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film shows two astronauts eating breakfast while watching videos on flat-screen tablets. They got it almost exactly right, down to the narrow borders and slim design of today’s models.
  • Smartwatches. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The film, set in 2271 and based on the TV series, did away with the TV version’s handheld communicators. Instead, the film introduces wearables in the form of a remarkable Apple Watch lookalike. The Apple Watch launched in 2013.
  • Touchscreens. Minority Report (2002). In the film, which takes place in 2054, Tom Cruise’s character uses a gesture-based interface, similar to today’s touchscreen technology. In 2007, Apple introduced its first touchscreen iPhone. The film didn’t specifically show touchscreen technology, but the concept it demonstrated was similar. Since we got to commercial touchscreen technology in 2007, a measly five years after the film, perhaps we’ll get to gesture-based technology sooner than the film’s timeline of 2054!
  • Drone Warfare. The Terminator (1984). The date April 21, 2011 was prophesied in the Terminator series as Judgment Day when the machines rise up and bring about the end of human society as we know it. In reality, unarmed drones have been flying over Afghanistan since 2000, and armed drones began in 2001, 10 years before the film predicts in 2011.
  • Cyber Hacking. WarGames (1983). Does life sometimes imitate art? In this case, it may have. In 1983, WarGames was one of the first movies to explore cyber hacking. The 1980s saw an uprise of cyber hacking and it’s gotten complicated ever since.

There is a lot that sci-fi movies don’t get right, but who can truly predict the future? In directing the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick said he “consulted with industrial designers, futurists, advertising people, to try to visualize what the future world would look like.”

Bob Gale, one of the screenwriters for Back to the Future (1985), discusses how his predictions are based on already established technology. “There was a rule that we went by—where 85 percent of [the future] should be familiar, and 15 percent of it should be out there,” Gale is reported as saying in Under the Radar online magazine. He also said in the January 14, 2014 issue of Newsweek, “We did a lot of research. We didn’t want it to look completely silly, at least not to audiences of the day. And a lot of the humor is making jokes about the present day.”

As for planning out the landscape, when they were conceiving Back to the Future Part II's future, the screenwriters decided they didn't want a Jetsons-like landscape of space-age sleekness. Instead, they thought of how the world actually changes over time, preferring to slightly alter in each film of the series the fictional prominent Hill Valley landmarks in California.

"So many movies that take place in the future, it looks like they just tore down everything and built everything up new," Gale explains in Popular Mechanics, issue October 21, 2015.

In Blade Runner’s Los Angeles 2019, there are no recognizable buildings. "I mean, you watch Blade Runner—which I really, really like—and that's supposed to be Los Angeles in the future, but there isn't one thing in there that looks like Los Angeles. That's not the way the future works," Gale adds.

If you’d like to celebrate 2019 and make note of the technological advances predicted in Blade Runner, Bordentown Library will be showing the film on Thursday, March 28 at 6pm.

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