Back to the Future

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The movie Back to the Future takes place, in part, in the year 1985 as well as 1955. Although the movie does not have the technology highlighted in chapter 3, such as mobile phones, it does still express some of the themes highlighted in the chapter. For example, many of the mishaps within the movie could have been avoided with the use of mobile phones. In the first half hour of the movie, Marty shows up late for school to find his girlfriend outside waiting for him. Rather than warn him in person, by using text messaging, she could have warned him that a teacher was looking for him to give him a late pass rather than them both getting caught and getting reprimanded. 

They also show many “internet” interactions through the use of calling via cellphones. Although there is not actual internet at the time the movie takes place in. Social media also does not exist within the movie, but even without it, by going back in time and seeing people in real life, Marty was able to help the political campaign of Goldie Wilson. Since he is mayor in 1985, while in 1955 Marty gives Goldie the idea to be mayor and helps his campaign by word of mouth. 

Moving on, the Textbook references three forms of direct censorship. These being; government monopolization, pre-publication review, and licensing and registration. The licensing and registration form of direct censorship is shown in Back to the Future when DOC is setting up the wires on the town clock to run the delorean. A police officer comes up to DOC and asks what is under the tarp covering the time machine, to which doc tells him that it's top secret weather equipment. The cop asks if he has the proper license for the weather machine. 

Later in the movie, Doc is subject to self-censorship, in which he refused to tell marty about the events of the future and refuses to say anything that will effect the future. Self-censorship is a person or group preventing themselves from publishing information, but doc prevents himself from saying information that could be detrimental to the future or to himself. 

Furthermore, multiple times in the movie Marty “invents” things that don’t exist yet. By doing this, he is practicing identity theft as highlighted in the chapter. He is taking the names and identities of others as well as their ideas. For much of the movie, his Mother calls him Calvin Klein, due to it being written in Martys underpants. He does not directly practice identity theft, since he did not agree that this was his name, but he did accidentally make Lorainne think that that was his name. He also takes the idea for the song Johnny Be Good and “invents” it years before its actual release. Not only that, he also invents the skateboard.

Chapter 6, of Ethics for the Information Age by Michael J. Quinn, discusses how the government protects and invades citizens privacy. The movie Back to the Future(1985) does not mention the government besides who’s running for Mayor. Although there aren't any direct correlations to the government there are still some aspects of the Chapter that relates to Back to the Future(1985).

In section 6.3.5 the book discusses the start and future uses of the closed-circuit television cameras. Retail shops started using surveillance cameras in the mid 70s early 80s which is when the start of the movie takes place. Doc tests his time machine in a plaza with well known Retail Shops, and it is more likely than not that those retail shops had surveillance cameras, and may have even caught a glimpse of what was taking place in the parking lot.

Another section that relates to the movie slightly is 6.4.1. This section discusses wire tapping and how it is used by the FBI. Within the movie Marty and Doc do not discuss anything about Doc’s inventions over the phone. Doc does call Marty to tell him to grab a video camera before heading to the mall. Considering that the Libyan Terrorist later showed up to the mall it is likely that they wired into Doc’s phone.

Chapter 7, of Ethics for the Information Age by Michael J. Quinn, discusses computer and network security, but more specifically its relation to ethics. The movie Back to the Future(1985) does not contain any information on network or computer security. Therefore Chapter 7 does not relate to Back to the Future(1985).

Chapter 7 section 7.2 discusses hacking. Although the movie was not made during the time of computer hacking, in Back to The future II Biff “hacks” the Deloreon to time travel for his benefit. Hacks is in quotations because it is carjacking but since there is a piece of technology within the car that Biff needed access to to steal the car he did in fact hack the time machine.

8.2 Data Entry or Data Retrieval Errors

Doc set November 5, 1955 as the time travel date for the DeLorean time machine as a way to explain to Marty how the time machine works. However, due to the Libyan terrorists, Marty escapes through the time machine and inadvertently ends up back in 1955 by traveling at 88 mph. While this does not demonstrate any errors in the software, it is indicative of how easy it is for human error to result in intended consequences by the software. With the power and influence of technology growing every year, it is imperative to guard against erroneous or unintended human input from causing software to cause major catastrophic impact

Chapter 10 analyzes the impact of technology on the workforce, and how new technologies can displace workers. In the movie, we see a future where much of the work has been automated. One example is a dog walking drone. This is meant to be humoras, but it shows a decent example of how many common jobs could be automated in the future. Marty’s culture shock when he travels to the future is also a good example of culture shock. Many older people, and people who are not as technically literate have similar reactions when faced with new technologies that Marty did when he traveled to the future. The movie can serve as an important reminder of how technology can affect people who are outside of the technical space.

Guitar amp

The guitar amp is a current technology still used today

The portrayal of this technology in the movie is very realistic. Amps can blow if   they are used aggressively just like the amp in the beginning of the movie. 

Land lines 1900-2006

Obsolete technology outshined by the mobile phone

The portrayal of landlines is very realistic

The Delorean DMC-12 (time machine)

JVC GR-C1 video camera

Dog feeder

Dog feeders are devices that are still used today for those who do not want to fill the bowl by hand every time it is time for a dog to eat. 

The device shown in the movie is much more complicated and large than a regular current time automatic dog feeder. 

At the time the movie was created this device did exist, but in a less complicated and more compact form. 

A device created in 1939 was used as an automatic pet feeder, but it only opened on a timer rather than actually pouring the food out for the pet. 

Now there are automatic pet feeders that work on a timer and dispense food when it is time for the pet to eat.

Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wanted to make a movie after their last movie didn’t do as well as they expected. They are long time friends and collaborators who created Back to the Future together. The idea to create a movie about time travel was brought up by Gale then elaborated on by Zemeckis. When visiting his family, Gale came across his father’s high school yearbook when he thought about whether his father in high school would be his friend if they were both in high school at the same time.[1] When Gale arrived back in Los Angeles he shared his thoughts with Zemeckis who thought about how inconsistent his mothers memory is and how amazing it would be to just go back in time to see his mothers life.[2] After knowing that they wanted to focus on the idea of time travel they decided to experiment with what would happen if someone did go back and change the past, which is the plot of their first movie. 

Although their overall intent was to make a movie that would do better than their first collaboration, after some thinking they knew they wanted to create a movie that explored the “what if’s?” of time travel.



Back to The Future showcases potential effects time traveling into the past has on a person's present and existence. However, philosophical consensus on the possibility of time travel into the past deems it impossible [2]. The argument against the existence of time travel lies in the fact that changing the past introduces contradictions against the natural order of time [3]. For example, a time traveler going into the past and killing their grandfather would prevent the traveler’s existence; furthermore, the murder would prevent the time traveler from traveling to the past to commit the murder in the first place [3]. This contradiction is known as the Grandfather Paradox [3]. Nothing physically bars the traveler from entering the contradiction; however, the act of beginning the contradiction would be impossible due to it overwriting events that led up to its climax. A philosopher named David Lewis states, “. If a time traveler visiting the past both could and couldn’t do something that would change it, then there cannot possibly be such a time traveler… this contradiction proves that time travel is impossible” [2]. The grandfather paradox is shown in the movie as Marty’s hand disappearing after meeting a younger version of his mother and causing her to fall in love with him instead of his father.

The root of the contradictions lie in societal nature. One type of solution for time travel involves an idea of a “time guardian” [4]. A “time guardian” involves an entity or supernatural force in the time dimension that would prevent time travelers from beginning a contradiction [4]. For example, a “time guardian” for the grandfather paradox would be the time traveler’s gun jamming and preventing him from killing the grandfather [4]. This notion of “time guardians” demonstrates limitations on human nature and society must be in place for time travel to exist without destroying the present. An example of a “time guardian” in the movie was the past version of Marty’s father finding the courage to ask out Marty’s mother to the dance which ensures that they fall in love and give birth to Marty in the present.

Even if time travel were to exist, time travel raises ethical concerns as to whether certain time periods should be restricted for time travelers. For example, time travel would theoretically allow one to experience Nazi extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau [1]. Should a trip like prohibited out of respect for the victims and prevent the victims from being treated as a spectacle [1]? Or should it rather be encouraged out of remembrance for the victims and proper education of the history [1]? Also, information gathered from time travel activity has the potential to be exploited [5]. For example, present information on the outcomes of past sport games could be exploited by time traveling before the sports events and placing bets on the teams known to win [5]. Therefore, society should be aware of exploiting the desires of those in the past to advance the financial and ideological interests of a few in the future or present [5].


  1. Holtorf, Cornelius. "On the possibility of time travel." Lund archaeological review 15 (2010): 31-41.
  2. Lewis, David. "The paradoxes of time travel." Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence (2016): 357-369.
  3. Loewenstein, Yael. “Against the Standard Solution to the Grandfather Paradox.” Synthese (Dordrecht), vol. 200, no. 2, 2022.
  4. Nahin, Paul J. Time machines: Time travel in physics, metaphysics, and science fiction. Springer Science & Business Media, 2001.
  5. Smith, Nicholas J. J. “I’D DO ANYTHING TO CHANGE THE PAST (BUT I CANT DO ‘THAT’).” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 2, 2017, pp. 153–68.

Meeting minutes


Timeline A: Original timeline unaltered by Marty’s time travel experience in 1955.
Timeline B: New timeline altered by Marty’s time travel experience in 1955.

Date Description Timestamp
Nov. 5th, 1955 A
Brain-wave analyzer: Dr. Emmet Brown designs a mind reading machine helmet. The helmet projects the thoughts of a person attached by a suction cup cable to the wearer of the device.
Nov. 5th, 1955 A
Flux Capacitor: Dr. Emmet Brown invents time travel by designing the flux capacitor. The invention allows for storage of high amounts energy, in the range of gigawatts. The capacitor stores energy produced by a plutonium nuclear reactor needed for the machine to travel time.
Oct. 22nd 1985 A
Plutonium: Libyan nationalists steal new plutonium isotopes from the Pacific Nuclear Research Facility
Oct. 22nd 1985 A
TV: Marty watches the news about the Libyan nationalists on a TV in Doc Brown’s lab.
Oct. 25th 1985 A
Electric Amp: Marty McFly uses a wall-sized electrical guitar amp built by Dr. Brown to prepare for his audition.
Oct. 25th, 1985 A
Fake Nuclear Bomb: Dr. Emmet Brown designs a dummy atomic bomb for Libyan nationalists out of an old pinball machine. The terrorists activate the device only to find it as a dud.
Oct. 26th, 1985 A
Camcorder: Marty uses a camcorder to record Doc. Brown’s experiments of the time traveling Delorean.
Oct. 26th, 1985 1:20AM A
Time Circuit: The device in the time traveling Delorean used to select which time period to travel to. The device keeps track of the present time, the current time period the machine is in, and the time period the machine previously travelled to.
Oct. 26th, 1985 1:20AM A
Time Travelling Delorean MK. I: Dr. Emmet Brown successfully tests time travel technology using his invented flux capacitor powering a Delorean. His dog Einstein becomes the first time traveler.
Nov. 5th, 1955 B
Walkman: Marty uses a walkman to play Van Halen music and convince his father that he is an alien.
Nov. 12th, 1955 B
Lightning energy conversion circuit: Dr. Brown and Marty design an electrical circuit to intake a bolt of lightning and store the energy into the delorean. The circuit provides the power necessary to restart the time circuit in the machine.
Oct. 26th, 1985 B
Dr. Emmet Brown showcases the Mark II version of his Delorean time travel machine. The machine has the ability to fly and convert any organic matter into flux energy to power the machine.