← Technological Analysis of Back to the Future II (1985)

Social Implications Topics

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is the right to express one's expressions freely without risk of pressure from the government. Since Back to the Future Part II did not involve governmental regulations or policies, freedom of speech was not in question and is therefore irrelevant to the movie.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property relates to the protection of certain ideas which can be patented, trademarked, or copyrighted. Although Doc Brown had some inventions that were important throughout the movie, especially the time machine, none of these inventions were shown to be protected intellectual property, nor were any IP protections shown to be violated. Intellectual property was not relevant to Back to the Future Part II (1989).

Privacy

Privacy is a big issue today, and the filmmakers of Back to the Future Part II seemed to understand that more technology in the future would lead to some loss of privacy.

At the beginning of the film, for example, the police in 2015 find Marty's girlfriend asleep and are able to identify her by her thumbprint in order to attempt to return her home. This implies some sort of thumbprint database of all citizens, including innocent ones. This type of large biometric database could be misused by corrupt policemen and women or hacked into, but it seems somehow the citizens of 2015 have made it work.

Later in the film, when 2015-Marty has a videocall with a business partner, it seems the face-to-face videocalling in 2015 employs a feature resembling a caller ID profile, which seems to display very intimate data on the caller, including hobbies, political views, children, favorite foods, etc. Because of the intimate nature of this data, it seems the data being displayed may actually be from an intelligent web crawler which automatically digs up personal information from social networks and web activity. These kinds of automated web crawlers actually exist today -- services which dig up, determine, and display intimate information found from Facebook, such as probably salary, personality, close friends and family, home address, age, and education. See Videocaller ID Profiles for more information. More research is being done on linking user accounts across multiple social networks by matching IP addresses from logins, time of logins, and commonly used words.

More evidence of lessened privacy in the future is evident when Marty's employer fires him over an illegal business transaction he notices on Marty's account. This implies that his employer is actually monitoring each and every business transaction of his employees. This type of activity monitoring makes sense in a business setting, but this power may be misused. Court orders today can request transcripts of emails from a work computer and a work credit card.

Finally, also related to Marty's videocall, it seems that his boss somehow manages to initiate a videocall without Marty actually accepting the call. Some system may be in place where Marty's boss is on some VIP list which can always initiate videocalls; the video system recognizes that Marty was just engaged in another business call and therefore permits more business calls automatically; or allows Marty's boss to call in but doesn't allow him to see Marty until Marty responds to the call and attempts to speak back to him. Whatever the case, the power to initiate videocalls without permission could be misused to infringe on one's privacy.

However, there also seem to be some measures which arguably increase privacy in some ways, biometric security devices to enter homes, for example. However, this assumes that these measures aren't hackable.

Crime

Crime takes a role in Back to the Future Part II (1989) in several ways. The reason why Doc and Marty travel to the future in the first place is to prevent Marty's son from committing a crime (the exact crime goes unmentioned so we can't know whether it was related to computing) and resulting in his jailing.

The central crime of the movie, however, is that of using the Doc's time machine to alter the future by traveling to the past. Biff, in 2015, steals the time machine and smuggles a sports almanac with the scores of every sports game from 1980-2000 and gives it to his past self in 1955. In doing so, he alters the future and makes himself extremely rich and influential. From an act utilitarian standpoint this is clearly wrong because, although Biff is made happy, the rest of the population of Hill Valley seems to be thrown into debilitating poverty. Motorcycle gangs, neighborhood shootings, and graffiti are rampant.

Finally, future-Marty, in 2015, gets fired by his boss because of an illegal transaction he makes with an associate. One could argue that the ease with which Marty completes the transaction -- by simply scanning a card -- could have tempted him and led to his demise, but it seems more that his associate pressured Marty into making the transaction.

Thus, throughout the movie, the role of computing technologies is neutral. 'Good' characters tend to act good and 'bad' characters tend to act bad regardless of the computing technology of their time.

Errors, Failures, and Risks

Throughout the movie, there are small examples of glitches and poor user interfaces that hint at the fact that people in the 1980s, when the movie was made, seemed to assume would always exist, even in 2015.

Examples of malfunctions in 2015 include devices which fail to mention low batteries and only deliver half doses, a glitching LCD panel whose numbers don't always display correctly inside the time machine, and an oversight by which the flying time machine is not protected against lightning.

The result of these errors is a feeling that there is some distrust of technology in the future because, although things work reliably sometimes, many times small, overlooked errors can result in catastrophic effects. However, it is also implied that these glitches are in the nature of technology and that we humans must learn to accept them as they are because the nature of technology is to glitch sometimes.

Work and Wealth

Finally, other issues in the film that are evident but not at the forefront of the film are automated technologies replacing the jobs of humans. Technologies shown to be automated in the movie are car-fueling and -cleaning stations, table-waiting at cafes, and clothes-fitting. Because the clothes in 2015 are self-fitting, we can assume that this means that clothes-makers no longer need to manufacture clothes in many different sizes and can therefore simplify and downscale their factories. As a result, many jobs may disappear. However, it is not revealed where more jobs are created for those displaced.