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Back to the future: How science fiction envisioned 2015

12/31/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 03/01/2015 05:59 EST
Science fiction has a rich tradition, and while it's usually a vehicle to warn us about the potentially dark consequences of our technology fetish, it also presents an opportunity to imagine what's ahead.

Here are a few occasions when pop culture ventured into the future to make bold – and sometimes even accurate – predictions about the year 2015.

Back to the Future II/III (films, 1989, 1990)

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Synopsis: After time-travelling to the '50s in the beloved 1985 movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) take their souped-up DeLorean into 2015 in these two (*cough* unnecessary) sequels.

Life in 2015: BTTF2 and 3 are not great movies, but they've been retroactively lauded for their predictions about future technology. Among the things that director Robert Zemeckis and his writers got right: tablet computers, wall-mounted TV screens, wireless videogames and people playing with their handheld devices at the dinner table. What they got wrong: Jaws 19 and double ties as a male fashion statement.

Isaac Azimov's "Runaround" (short story, 1942)

Synopsis: First published in the early '40s and included in the famous fiction collection I, Robot (1950), this philosophical tale set in 2015 is the first to explore Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics." (To summarize: 1. A robot may not harm a human, or allow one to be harmed. 2. A robot must obey humans, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the first law. 3. A robot must preserve its own existence, as long as it doesn't conflict with the first two laws.)

While trying to reopen an abandoned mining station on Mercury, space engineers Powell and Donovan send an android to retrieve some selenium, which is crucial in making the scorching hot planet inhabitable for humans. As it turns out, selenium is pretty much toxic to the robot, known as "Speedy." Speedy becomes confused by the competing impulses to serve his masters and preserve his own well-being. To break the stalemate, Powell risks his life by going out into the blazing Mercury heat himself, thereby nudging Speedy to remember the First Law of Robotics: protect the humans.

Life in 2015: Over the course of his career, Asimov was bang-on with a lot of predictions (e.g. Mars exploration and programmable coffeemakers). "Runaround" basically predicts the advent of autonomous robots, which can be seen in various forms nowadays, from underwater monitoring devices to Google's self-driving cars.

Event Horizon (film, 1997)

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Synopsis: The year is 2047, and humanity has colonized a good deal of the solar system. Then it receives a mysterious transmission from a ship called the Event Horizon, which disappeared into a black hole seven years prior. The ship looks normal at first, until the rescue crew discovers the ship may be alive - and in a cosmically bad mood.

Life in 2015: According to the plot's backstory, humans established the first permanent colony on the moon in 2015. (No doubt closely followed by the first lunar Starbucks.) In reality, while NASA announced the discovery of water on the moon in 2009, we're quite a ways off from building condos there.

The 6th Day (film, 2000)

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Synopsis: In 2015, when the cloning of animals is widespread but the replication of humans is forbidden, unassuming everyman Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers he has a doppelganger. The company that's secretly replicating people discovers its indiscretion and tries to bury the evidence (i.e. Arnie). He spends the rest of the film dodging bullets and windy lectures about the ethics of genetic manipulation.

Life in 2015: So yeah, human cloning. In the film, its outlaw status leads to a high body count and lame one-liners (Q: "What are you gonna do?" A: "Take my life back.") Real-life scientists have managed to replicate some animals, but cloning people is still only a remote possibility right now – and explicitly banned in some countries.

Fringe (TV series, 2008-2013)

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Synopsis: An enigmatic division of the FBI that investigates supernatural happenings discovers the existence of highly evolved future humans (living in the early 2600s) who have manipulated the space-time continuum and won't stop harassing us.

Life in 2015: Most of humanity will be wiped out by people from the future who, having defiled the planet in the year 2609, travel back in time to plunder a better-preserved version of Earth (i.e. the one we live in now). If it sounds confusing, don't worry, it probably won't happen.

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