How films and television inspire future innovations

by Akbar Jaffer
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How Films and Television Inspire Future Innovations


I have always been fascinated by the power movies and television have on our daily lives and in shaping our culture. I am always mesmerized by movies like Back to the Future and Star Trek that paint an image of future world in their stories. Naturally I find myself infatuated with how imagination and creativity of past filmmakers has inspired real innovations that we are enjoying today. A good friend stated that may be its self-fulfilling prophecy and he is absolutely right. What is amazing to note is that today we have the technology to materialize those innovative visions. We still have more work to do (policy, safety) before drones are ready to deliver our burritos and flying cars reduce the commute time but the reality of such future innovations is not too far.

So today I’d like to look back at some of the iconic films and television shows that have informed most of our technological research and development and, for the most part, shaped the culture and life that we live today. The dates suggest the earliest recorded time these innovative concepts were introduced in a film or a television show.

  1. Metropolis (1927): Androids
  2. Woman in the Moon (1929): Space Travel and very first depiction of what the moon surface might look like.
  3. The Invisible Man (1933) and Harry Potter (2001): Invisible man and the cloak of invisibility.
  4. The Jetsons (1962): Robot vacuum cleaners
  5. Star Trek (1966) and Star Wars (1984): Teleporter, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), smartphones, mobile phones, tele-medicine (medical scanner), space travel, light speed travel, and much more.
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Skype-like app, voice interface, artificial intelligence, tablet computer, and very first time depiction of what the outer space might look like.
  7. Sleeper (1973): Robot Assisted Surgery
  8. Six Million Dollar Man (1974) and Bionic Woman (1976): Cybernetic (bionic) implants of human organs.
  9. Blade Runner (1982): Digital Billboards
  10. Knight Rider (1982) and Total Recall (1990): Self-driving/autonomous cars.
  11. Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and Total Recall (1990): Naked/Full Body Scanners.
  12. Return of the Jedi (1983): Speeder / Hoverbikes.
  13. Electric Dreams (1984): Home Automation
  14. Weird Science (1985): 3D Printing at Home.
  15. Back to the Future (1985, 1989, and 1990): Wearable computing, hover boards, holograms, time travel, flying cars, flat screen televisions and so much more. Nike even successfully recreated the shoes complete with self-lacing power laces.
  16. Short Circuit (1986): Military Robots
  17. Harry Potter (2001): Witches have been flying broomsticks for ages but Harry Potter inspired flying hover board (Duru from Canada), self-driving cars, flying cars, GIFs (moving pictures), and memory eraser charm / Neutralizer from Men in Black.
  18. Minority Report (2002): Touch Interface, gesture-based user interface.

So what are the movies of today predicting life will be like 50 years?

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