Back to the Future: How Data Changed Marty McFly’s Life
The future portrayed in the 1989 film classic, Back to the Future II, has finally arrived. October 21, 2015. Many articles compare 1985 vision versus 2015 reality; what most of those reflections overlook is how data impacted Marty McFly just like it’s impacting our lives in 2015.
Director Robert Zemeckis created a movie exploring how data, and even Big Data, changes the game creating new winners and losers. Undoubtedly, residents of Hill Valley discover their information gold with the help of a time machine, not Big Data or predictive analytics. There’s no time machine in the reality we call 2015, yet. Of course, one can’t rule out that someday a “Doc” from the future won’t zoom back to 2015. But the film nonetheless explores the power of ‘knowing’ the future, and it asks but never really answers the danger of that.
Back to the Future II begins with Doc returning from the 21st century worried about Marty’s, and his girlfriend Jennifer’s, family in 20 years. Life apparently goes awry for the love birds and Doc is happy to help Marty after he tried to save Doc’s life at the end of Back to the Future.
Marty’s son gets into trouble with Griff, who happens to be Biff’s son – family feuds last generations in Hill Valley – and Doc has concocted a plan to change the decision Marty’s son makes on October 21. So Doc and Marty head to 2015 with Jennifer in tow. With the power of insight into the future, Doc knows Martin Jr will be arrested, convicted and sent to prison on October 22 – our justice system works exceptionally well in 2015 – if they don’t intervene today.
Of course, there is a little help from Big Data along the way. Marty needs to change clothes to look like his son – 2015 fashion is, well, eccentric – and precision weather predictions tell Doc the second it will stop raining for Marty’s wardrobe change. Frankly, I am a little jealous of Zemeckis’s 2015; if weather forecasts could only be half that good! Looking like his son, Marty saves Junior but of course things go awry.
Separated from Doc and Marty and unaware of ‘when’ she is, Jennifer accidentally returns to her future home and family. Marty realizing what happened goes to retrieve her before irreparable damage is done. We get a glimpse into their future life and it doesn’t look so good. We learn that Future Marty is doing all he can to fix his financial woes. Goaded into illegal activity by his co-worker Doug Needles – nobody calls Marty McFly ‘chicken’ – Marty is immediately caught by real-time monitoring and fired. Though shocked by what he discovers, Marty retrieves Jennifer and escapes back to the DeLorean and 1985.
Only 1985 isn’t the same any more. While Marty was rescuing Jennifer from seeing too much of her future, Biff drives the DeLorean back to 1955 to give himself the ultimate predictive tool. Grey’s Sports Almanac covering game outcomes from 1950-2000; the power of past data to predict the future. Biff uses the insights to his advantage, amassing vast wealth with a 100% perfect predictive algorithm and ruining Marty’s life in the process.
While we can’t predict sports outcomes in 2015, Big Data sports analytics from SAP is definitely giving sports teams and their fans insights they’ve never had before with NBA basketball, NFL football, soccer, tennis and more.
Doc and Marty eventually return life back to ‘normal’ and Marty experiences firsthand how Big Data and predictive power can alter life. That part of 2015 Robert Zemeckis did get right. The digital revolution is changing our world, and Big Data is creating new winners and losers in the 21st century.
A mystery remains in the film. Doc expresses concern throughout the film about ‘knowing too much’ at one point imploring, “Please Marty, no-one should know too much about their own destiny.” Maybe we need a Back to the Future IV so we aren’t left hanging.