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'Back to the Future Part II' writer Bob Gale talks about his 2015 predictions

In "Back to the Future Part II," Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the year 2015, a world filled with flying cars, hoverboards and kitschy 1980s nostalgia. 

The writers certainly got the part about the '80s nostalgia right. But what about the other stuff? We talked to Bob Gale, who wrote "Back to the Future Part II" with director Robert Zemeckis, about how their vision of the future looks now that 2015 has arrived. 

So what do you feel like you got right? 

We were not the first science-fiction movie to predict that people would use their thumbs as an ID method to secure transactions. I read articles back then that the technology was in development, and we got that spot on. In Europe, there are portable credit card devices where you can use your thumb to identify yourselves. 

The drones, that is one that we scored a home run on, although we don’t have the dog walkers yet. The USA TODAY drone, that was pretty prescient. I don’t even know how we thought that one up. We were just trying to think, “How can we make things that are normal to us in the '80s and put a technological spin on it?”

Anything you feel like you got wrong?

One thing that we absolutely missed completely was cellphones and smartphones. We didn’t figure that one out at all. If you were going to say, what would Doc Brown be surprised by if he actually got to 2015, that would probably be it. This is a technology that nobody saw coming in 1989, and it’s totally ubiquitous now and has totally changed how people live.

I have to say, you were dead on with a lot of stuff. 

We had flat-screen TVs in the McFly house and videoconferencing, that’s all accurate. The kids at the dinner table are wearing what you can consider to be Google Glass. They are watching television on those glasses and yet the phone rings and they all know there is an incoming call. There was also a lot of voice-activated stuff in the house. The cops bring Jennifer in the house, and they say, "You should really put some lights on." She says "Lights on?" And the lights turn on with her voice. We’re not quite there yet, but I think in another five years it will be pretty standard.

The pizza hydrator ... nobody is working on that. 

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Where did that idea come from?

We were thinking, "What is the next advance beyond the microwave oven?" And then the promotions department at the studio said that Pizza Hut wanted to do a tie-in with us and asked for a way to fit them into the story. So we came up with this idea of miniature pizzas being hydrated.

What about when Marty gets fired via fax? That seems like the biggest miss.

Well, from where we were sitting in 1989, it just seemed like there were going to be more and more faxes. That is one we totally got wrong. Back then, we thought faxes would become even more ubiquitous than they already were.

How did you come up with the self-lacing shoes?

We had a relationship with Nike from the first movie. And we were thinking, "What can we do with the clothes of the future?" and I think it was Bob Zemeckis who came up with the idea of the self-lacing shoes. 

A company called Hendo Hover is building hoverboards. A Nike designer said that self-lacing shoes are coming later this year. Is it strange to see people commit so much time and money trying to make your ideas come to life?

It’s not strange. It’s flattering. They say that life imitates art. The father of rocket technology, Robert Goddard, read Jules Verne as a kid. A lot of people have been inspired in a lot of ways by the "Back to the Future" films, and every kid who saw the movie has wished they could ride a hoverboard. And now we have folks out there trying to figure out how they actually work.

Are you disappointed that we don't have flying cars today?

When I was a kid in 1960, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I remember seeing a documentary on TV about the wonderful world of 1985. And they predicted flying cars. That was one thing that always stuck in my mind, and part of the reason we put a flying car in the first "Back to the Future" movie was just to be able to say, "Somewhere in 1985, there is a flying car." 

Am I disappointed we don’t have them? On a certain level, yes. On another level, you could say people have enough trouble driving in two dimensions, let alone in three dimensions. We are probably safer as a society to not have everyone driving their own flying car.

Where did the idea for the holographic "Jaws" come from?

Every 20 years or so, they bring back 3-D movies. They had "Jaws 3-D" in the 1980s. So we figured, 3-D movies would come back, but with holographic technology. In an earlier draft of "Back to the Future Part II," we had a scene where Huey Lewis and the News played a concert as holograms. We ended up cutting it out. It was a good gag, but it didn’t really advance the story. But hey, now that is happening. You’ve got Michael Jackson performing as a hologram

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I have wondered about this since I was a kid. Why don't the hoverboards work over water?

I don’t know. [Laughs]. The water disturbs the magnetic field? The hoverboards that we invented, they just hadn’t figured out how to make them work over water yet.

How about Mr. Fusion? Was that a technology that everyone in 2015 was using?

Yeah. We thought if we had fusion energy, everyone would have their own little home energy supply. They would recycle their garbage at home in their own little fusion device. 

Any other predictions that you are proud of? 

We predicted there would be a Major League Baseball team in Miami. We got the league wrong, we thought it would be an American League team. And we got the name wrong, we called them the Gators, but there are the Miami Marlins playing baseball today. Only time will tell if the Cubs make it to the World Series this season. That was a complete joke, but the Cubs actually have a pretty good team this year, so we’ll see what happens. 

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com




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