These Modern Classics With Prescient Innovation Have Helped Predict Our Future
The hologram messages from the first “Star Wars” movie are most representative of innovation we have today.
BY JEREMY LOSAW
Science and art are constantly inspiring one another. Movies, in particular, are famous and infamous for their ability to show us fantastic worlds and inventions that could not exist in our world that has to abide by the laws of physics—and the technology of the present.
Consider the time machine, a classic trope and movie invention that for practical reasons has never come to life.
However, some technologies that have jumped the shark and come off the big screen have found their way into our lives. Although they may not be actualized in the same form as envisioned in the movies, they are certainly, conceptually at least, former pieces of science fiction.
So let’s use the “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” phone booth time machine and take a look at how some old movies have predicted the future.
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989)
This movie is famous for the electromagnetic shrinking machine that inventor Wayne Szalinski built, which shrunk his kids to a size smaller than a Cheerio.
Though this invention dominated the plot—and fortunately is a technology that has yet to find its way to reality—there was another innovation that was a bit more practical. Wayne also invented a radio-controlled lawn mower to make faster work of a common chore, and almost made short work of his shrunken kids while in the hands of neighbor boy Tommy Pervis.
Although radio-controlled mowers never made it to the market, smarter and better AI-powered lawn mowers have.
Companies including Husqvarna and Greenworks have developed auto mowers that, unlike the old Snapper from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” are powered by clean electric motors and can mow your lawn automatically without any sweat or spilled gas. Instead of the user having to guide the mower, it is programmed via apps to make the desired mowing pattern and use guide wires at the edges of the lawn area to keep them in bounds.
In this case, the realized product turned out much better than the movie fantasy.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
Although I am still waiting for the liquid metal “mimetic polyalloy” that makes up the body of the villain T-1000 to come to life, what “T2” actually predicted was the rise of AI and smart machines.
As the plot goes, engineer Miles Bennett Dyson was working on a microprocessor for Skynet that allows machines to learn on their own. At 2:14 a.m. Eastern time on Aug. 29, 1997, Skynet becomes “self aware” and can think for itself, and uses this newfound power to launch missiles.
The concept of machines learning, adapting and making decisions automatically has become real. But they have been largely deployed for the greater good and not a nuclear holocaust as they were in “T2.”
Machine learning is a topic that has been at the forefront of technology for the last decade; it is a natural piggyback to all the data that IoT devices gather. Data are analyzed in the cloud (think Skynet) and can be used to come up with a result to control a system.
One of the most mature consumer devices that uses machine learning to control a system is the Nest thermostat. These devices analyze the conditions in the home, record data of the temperature settings you use, and over time can predictively set a heating and cooling schedule that is both comfortable to the user and efficient to use.
Although the Nest is a docile application of AI and machine learning, perhaps we should heed the warnings from “T2” and make sure that this tech is not used to the detriment of human life.
“Star Wars” (1977)
The “Star Wars” franchise has brought a number of fantastic innovations throughout the franchise. Who doesn’t want to take a podracer for a spin, or fly a TIE fighter?
However, the hologram messages from the first “Star Wars” movie are most representative of innovation we have today. When R2D2 played the hologram of Princess Leia for Luke Skywalker and she said she was in trouble and needed Obi-Wan’s help, it was essentially a form of video streaming. Innovations such as videoconferencing and Facetime allow us to virtually put our loved ones in the room with us even if they are far away, just as Leia came to life for Luke.
With the COVID pandemic compelling the world to stay at home, it was this type of technology that allowed society to stay on its feet while people were being treated and vaccines were being developed. The holographic messages were also, in a way, precursors to apps like Cameo where you can hire a celebrity to record a message for you or a friend to bring famous people to life in your living room.
To play off one of the classic lines from this teen flick, the movie may seem as useless for finding a next-generation innovation as “searching for a boy in high school.” But with all due respect, “As if.”
“Clueless” is the story of teenage fashionista Cher, forecasting the practical use of AR (augmented reality) in the home.
In one of the opening sequences, Cher discusses her morning routine. She wakes up, brushes her teeth and picks out her school clothes. Remarkably, she uses a computer (which somehow has a touchscreen in 1995!) to browse through different tops and bottoms. She selects a combination and hits the “Dress Me” button, which prompts the computer app to virtually dress an image of her so she can see how she looks before getting dressed.
This is clearly the inspiration for current smart outfitting planning apps where images of your clothes can be uploaded and suggestions given to you based on factors such as weather, event and how often each piece has been worn recently. More broadly, it predicts the use of augmented reality throughout the home.
This was a forecasting of the practical application of AR, giving viewers insight into how computer tech can provide value in their everyday lives.
Of course, now there are much broader applications in the home than just the closet. Retailers Such as IKEA and Amazon have adapted AR to allow consumers to place furniture or other decor virtually inside of their real homes to get a feel for the product before they buy it. Whimsically, it is also used in games such as “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite,” in which you can fight dark wizards in your living room.
“Clueless” was a coming of age for Cher Horowitz, as well as a movie predictor of augmented reality for practical use.