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‘Back to the Future’ sets off a tech time warp

Image: Marty McFly and hoverboard
In “Back to the Future Part 2,” Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) grabs a hoverboard to make his escape in 2015 – sparking a decades-long effort to invent hoverboards that actually work. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

One of the running gags in the Back to the Future movies is the Hollywood equivalent of a closed timelike curve – in which a time traveler brings an innovation back from the future and invents it in the past, so that it exists in the future. For example, there’s Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, doing the “Johnny B. Goode” duckwalk that inspires Chuck Berry’s signature move, 30 years earlier in 1955.

This week marks the flip side of that record: In Back to the Future Part 2, Marty travels ahead from 1985 to Oct. 21, 2015 – and brings back glimpses of a weird future world where flying robots roam the skies and the Cubs are contenders. It’s one thing to talk about which technologies the movie got right (fingerprint recognition) or wrong (dog-walking drones). But what’s really interesting are the technologies that arguably take a page from the “BTTF” script and close the time loop, just in time for Marty’s arrival.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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