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How Films like Back to the Future Predicted Accessible Technology

10/14/2015 05:44 EDT | Updated 10/14/2016 05:12 EDT
Flickr: theNerdPatrol

The future is something I've always been fascinated by and in particular, time travel. The 1980s and '90s seemed to have no shortage of movies that explored this concept. My favourite time travel movies from that era have to be the Back to the Future franchise and the 1993 classic Demolition Man -- both of which have eerily accurate depictions of future technological advancements.

When I first watched Back to the Future (BTTF) as a kid, I was mesmerized by the idea that with the right technology, it might be possible to travel through space and time. Back to the Future II was my favourite in the trilogy. Seeing Marty travel 30 years into the future got me thinking I wonder what it will really be like in 2015?

With "Future Day" (Oct. 21, 2015) just over a week away, there have been many recent articles on "What Did Back To The Future Get Right?" Rather than bore you with a typical comparison, I thought I'd take a different approach, and highlight how both the BTTF trilogy and Demolition Man made technological predictions of a more inclusive and accessible world.

Cars and Hover Technology

It's pretty clear that we don't have any commercially-released hovering vehicles like the ones used in Back to the Future II, but recently, a company named Arx Pax put together a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $500,000 for their Hendo Hoverboard. The key here is, the hoverboards themselves are just the beginning -- a proof of concept.

Founders Greg and Jill Henderson have hinted that there will be so many more uses for their technology. I, for one imagine a world where we will have "frictionless" hover-wheelchairs using technology like this, vastly improving a person's mobility.

Moving on to Demolition Man, this is where things start to get really creepy -- in a good way. Their time jump goes a little further than 2015 -- they go as far into the future as 2032. Let me remind you, the movie was made in 1993. This was way before Facebook, YouTube, even the standardized use of GPS, which we now have in our phones. In the movie, Sandra Bullock's character, Lenina Huxley, and the rest of the fictional San Angeles police department, have been outfitted with self-driving police cruisers.

Not only do these vehicles drive autonomously, but the passengers have the option to override these settings and manually drive themselves. They also feature voice activated commands, giving the passenger the ability to leisurely do other activities such as video conferencing, while safely being driven to their destination. Not surprisingly, a few years back, Google announced their self-driving car. What makes this even more relevant is the release of this video by Google, featuring beta testers -- some of whom are actually legally blind.

Wearables and Handhelds

Today it seems we just can't put down our smartphones and other connected devices. There's a scene in BTTF 2, where Marty McFly Jr. is at the dinner table wearing a pair of futuristic glasses that are tied into the phone system and internet. He's so consumed that he barely acknowledges those around him. Which leads me to my next item -- Google Glass. Although it was one of the first to the market, its overall reception was fairly lukewarm. All that said, I'm a huge Google fanboy and I see the benefits to technology like this, especially when it comes to accessibility. Being able to look up images, take photos and even navigate the city all hands-free has its perks, especially for someone like me, who happens to use a wheelchair.

Another up-and-coming technology that has me intrigued is Microsoft's HoloLens. Essentially, wearing these glasses places the user in an augmented reality within whatever physical space surrounds them. This allows them to virtually move 3D objects and interact with their environment in new ways. I can't even begin to imagine how this will positively impact the lives of children, youth and adults with varying disabilities. The possibilities are endless.

Demolition Man also predicted technology that does in fact exist today -- remote video conferencing services.

Artificial Intelligence and Home Entertainment

Home entertainment and automation seems to be the wave of the future. Aside from the convenience factor, there are many benefits for persons with a disability. Being able to interact with your home and the devices inside of it (as though it is a living being with predictive capabilities) is completely possible today and is something I'm quite familiar with.

My business partner Sean Sibbet and I talked about this in great detail at TEDxStanley Park back in 2013. In fact, futurist and author Ray Kurzweil, even believes that human and artificial intelligence will synthesize at some point in the future, blurring the line between man and machine, a transformation he terms "The Singularity." But even some of today's brightest minds fear where AI could take us.

Last year, Google acquired London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies. They've recently built an artificial intelligence agent that can learn to successfully play 49 classic Atari games by itself, with minimal input. Although mastering video games seems to be a small feat, it is this same self-correcting intelligence that has Stephen Hawking worried. He's said: "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history..It might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks."

I totally see where Mr. Hawking is coming from, however, I am an optimist, and although any number of things we do as humans on a daily basis could lead to our demise, I feel the promise of technology and all it can do to improve our lives (regardless of our ability) is worth the risk. I guess only time will tell.

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