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Google Ventures' Bill Maris and Xprize's Peter Diamandis Go 'Back to the Future'

Sorry, Marty McFly, there are probably no flying cars or auto-drying clothes in your future.

Getty Images/Michael Buckner

Director Robert Zemeckis took his shot at predicting the future in “Back to the Future II,” the 1989 movie that imagined we’d all be scooting around on hover boards by, well, tomorrow.

Futurists Peter Diamandis of Xprize and Bill Maris of Google Ventures took their shot at technology prognostication at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference Tuesday at The Montage in Laguna Beach, Calif. While they acknowledged such far-off guesses are almost always wrong, they nonetheless took a stab at it.

  • Tomorrow’s teens won’t be in a rush to get their drivers’ licenses. Maybe they won’t even own cars. Instead, they’ll take advantage of car-hailing services such as Uber, whose human drivers will likely be replaced by a fleet of self-driving cars. “In the future, putting a 16-year-old kid behind the wheel of a 5,000-pound vehicle [traveling] at 60 mph is going to seem insane,” said Diamandis.
  • There won’t be any flying cars, either. (Sorry, Marty McFly.) People will hop in a capsule or pod and travel via the Hyperloop — a tube above or below ground that traverses hundreds of miles at super-fast speeds. SpaceX founder Elon Musk promoted this idea in 2013, as an alternative to California’s high-speed rail project.
  • We’ll all work — and shop and do pretty much everything else — from home, thanks to virtual and augmented reality technologies (which are the next best thing to being there). “We will regain that portion of our lives wasted on the 405 [freeway],” said Diamandis. “I don’t think that adds any value to our lives.”
  • The moon will become another travel destination. Just like Hawaii, only less sunny. Virgin Galactic has already sold eight tickets to the Soyuz space station and another couple to take a trip around the back side of the moon — for a price of a quarter of a billion dollars.
  • We won’t live to the improbably old age of 500, but we’ll extend the life expectancy of people living in parts of the world where most people don’t live past the age of 45. “The technology exists now to extend life and have people live healthier, happier lives — not to be immortal,” said Maris. “If we distributed the technology we have now … we could double the lifespan of people on this planet.”
  • The robots are coming, though not necessarily the humanoid version that has been popularized by science fiction. Machine intelligence will be infused into the everyday items in our lives, starting with phones and cars. We humans may even have chips embedded in our brains so we can access information stored in the cloud. That’s not scary, is it?
  • Soylent — or some other version of meal replacement — is the future. Prepare yourselves, foodies.

Of course, this could all be wrong.

“Humans are terrible at predicting the future,” said Maris. “We really overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can do in the long term. … If we can glimpse even a couple of years into the future, even that’s difficult to do.”

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