Back to “Back to the Future”

This week’s fun fact is that October 21, 2015 is the date that Doctor Emmitt Brown set for his time machine, a DeLorean, in hopes of saving Marty McFly and his girlfriend’s future in the movie “Back to the Future.” As a proud member of Generation X, I enjoyed reading accounts, such as “It’s Time for ‘Back to the Future’ Day,” which reflect upon what the movie got right (e.g. teleconferencing) and what it got wrong (e.g. hovercrafts that run on garbage serving as a common and accessible mode of transportation).

As my family rushed through the morning routine, I asked them, “What do you think the world will be like in 25 years?” My eight-year old son answered that men and women will have visited Mars. My nine-year-old daughter doubled down on hovercraft. My wife answered that we’ll be able to interact with one another through hologram technology. And I wrapped it up by answering that in addition to shopping online, we’ll be able to print our purchases on our home 3D printer.

My thoughts quickly shifted from memory lane to the implications of the answers we laid out on the breakfast table. If in 25 years…

  • men and women can land on Mars; we would spend billions on the technology to do it, likely spurring technical advancements (literally at the speed of light) and creating a race-to-Mars economy that supports millions of jobs.
  • garbage-fueled hovercraft are the most common and accessible form of transportation, tires would be a relic, and garbage would sell for a premium price per pound while oil for just pennies per barrel.
  • we can interact with each other through holograms as though we are in the same room, we won’t need that garbage-fueled hovercraft after all. The office will have a holodeck-like environment, making office buildings and brutal morning and evening commutes a distant memory.
  • we can print our clothes and household items (maybe even that hovercraft) on our home 3D printer, shopping malls will be torn down and the space could be available to return it to its natural state.

Although much will be different in the future, some things will evolve to remain the same. In this case, when you are finished using your 3D-printed products, you’ll be able to donate them to Goodwill®, which will ensure that the raw materials from your donations will be repurposed for printing new products. Because the labor market will be markedly affected by advancements, the bulk of the revenues from your donations will continue to be used to assist people with employment challenges (e.g. people displaced from their job at the mall or at the tire production plant) to learn the skills they need to get that job and advance in careers supported by the race-to-mars economy.

What does your “Back to the Future” look like? While the future is hard to predict, it’s very certain that October 21, 2040 will be much different from today in many ways and much the same in others.  As stakeholders in the future, , the challenge today is to promote advancement that ensures that by 2040, the most serious of today’s problems are irrelevant and our quality of life improved in the process.