Back to the Future: the business world’s past predictions

Back to the Future

October 21st 2015 is Back to the Future Day, the day Marty McFly travelled forward to in 1989’s film sequel. To celebrate, Director looks at the business world’s past predictions…

Back to the Future

Some of Back to the Future’s forecasts for 2015 look remarkably prescient (wearable tech, video calls, plasma flatscreens), others (flying cars, self-tying trainers, fax machine ubiquity) do not. But what business ideas did other soothsayers envisage? Director examines the history of the future:

1900: SKYPE

Skype prediction

Video chats might be the norm for business calls today, but these Victorian-era French cigar-box artists got there first: imagining the ‘cine-phono-telegraph’, which allowed people to speak over the telephone and see each other at the same time.

1930: 16-HOUR WEEKS

FE Smith

Conservative politician (and friend of Winston Churchill) FE Smith predicted the automation of machines would result in 16-hour weeks by 2030, leaving more leisure time for hunting foxes. “As wealth increases, we shall all be able to ride hounds,” he boomed.


The Sword of Damacles

This ungainly device is credited with being the world’s first augmented reality headset. Called ‘The Sword of Damocles’, it was created by a University of Utah professor and a computer scientist, with viewers experiencing (possibly primitive) computer-fed graphics.


Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

Today’s ‘freelance economy’ was foretold by science-fiction author Alvin Toffler in his best-selling Future Shock, which envisaged a “post-industrial society” with people often changing careers and workplaces. He also popularised the term “information overload” 40 years before neuroscientists started arguing that our constant digital multitasking was taking a toll on our lives.


Bill Gates

In an interview where he predicted proto versions of YouTube, Siri and Wikipedia, Bill Gates also said, “There will be a machine that keys off of physiological traits, whether it’s voiceprint or fingerprint, so credit cards and cheques – pretty flimsy deals anyway – have to go.”


President Trump - The Simpsons

The Simpsons episode ‘Bart to the Future’ imagines a 2030 America where Donald Trump (currently a Republican presidential candidate) is in the White House, leaving behind a US reliant on aid from China. Almost as fanciful as a 1980s film predicting we’d be using tablet-style computers within 30 years. Oh, hang on…

For more on the future of business see:

The Future of Funding

Future of Business Schools

The recession generation – what’s behind today’s teenagers’ mindset?

About author

Alexander Parker

Alexander Parker

Alexander Parker is a freelance writer and filmmaker.

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