3 Big Things ‘Back to the Future’ Got Right (Thanks to Government)

Today is the day that Michael J. Fox’s iconic character Marty McFly landed in a future that Hollywood imagined almost 30 years ago in Back to the Future II. It turns out that many of the amazing things McFly saw in the movie have indeed come to pass–from 3D video to wearable technology.

But in celebrating our technological advancements, it is important to remember that none of these innovations happened by chance. They are the product of an enormous amount of investment in research and development–much of it seeded by the federal government. Here are three prime examples:

Tablets and Other Smart Devices

The tablet computing props in Back to the Future II accurately predicted the miniaturization of electronic devices in recent years. The parallels between the movie and modern society’s use of tablets seem uncanny: from the way Marty’s nemesis Biff paid a taxi fare with his thumb print to the way policemen in the movie used a tablet computer to check the identity of Elizabeth Shue’s character, Jennifer. Perhaps the only major difference comes down to the size and functionality of the display screens–which the movie under-estimated.

Federal funding helped commercialize the core technologies that now power our tablets and other mobile devices. Though initially developed by private companies like Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, and Texas Instruments, microchips were costly to produce. But NASA and the Air Force stepped into the picture, creating the initial market for microchips by purchasing thousands of expensive chips per week for space exploration and missile programs.

As federal agencies adopted microchips to support their growing computing needs, they pushed down the cost of production and induced further innovation, which kept pushing the limits of processing power. This virtuous cycle spurred the miniaturization of many electronic devices.

Early touch screen research also received help from —> Read More