We all know that sci-fi can influence technological innovation.
Common uses of tech like Skype, credit cards, tablets, or even the Internet were once impossible. But thankfully, writers and creators produced stories with fanciful tech like quantum computers that solve the biggest questions of life, the universe, and everything.
They even predicted the adoption of mass surveillance.How #Scifi Authors Predicted Modern #TechClick To Tweet
How Sci-Fi Predicts Modern Technology
Consider Israel’s proposed “Iron Beam”–a Star Wars like forcefield to deter, deflect, and destroy missiles and drones. Did Star Wars spur the idea or was it just a larger platform to communicate a concept from writer E.E. Doc Smith?
Science fiction does more than just pique the interest and creative juices of scientists and inventors. It can actually predict the advent of new technologies–sometimes decades or centuries beforehand.
What are 13 classic sci-fi legends that predicted modern tech we use every day?
1. The Jetsons Totally had Skype
If you are a 90s kid like me, you probably caught all of the reruns of classic cartoons like The Flintstones and Hong Kong Phooey. Another evergreen favorite, The Jetsons, had video chat. They even had doctors diagnose illnesses this way. Pretty futuristic, huh?
Well, The Jetsons weren’t the first to utilize video chatting tech. Hugo Gernsback predicted video chat (among other things like solar power) in his book Ralph 124C 41+ as early as 1911. But, still earlier in 1909, E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” featured similar concepts including video conferencing.
2. In “Looking Backward”, Edward Bellamy Predicted Credit Cards
Despite forms of virtual payment and countless apps, credit cards remain one of the most prolific forms of payment. Due to their ease of use and access to credit lines, it makes sense. But the first universal credit card wasn’t invented until 1950.
In the book “Looking Backward” published in 1888, Edward Bellamy depicts a Utopian sci-fi future of the year 2000. Citizens get credit cards which allow them to access equal portions of the nation’s overall wealth.
Credit cards these days? Well…they don’t function as they did in Bellamy’s socialist utopian society.
3. Big Brother Mass Surveillance in 1984 is Alive and Well
George Orwell is not an unfamiliar name to most students of literature. His works Animal Farm and 1984 are both on the “required reading” list year after year for various institutions. But 1984 was particularly prophetic.
Published in 1949, the dystopian future portrayed in the book 1984 seemed like an hyperbolic impossibility. “War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” This motto from Big Brother (who is always watching) isn’t far from reality these days. The biggest indicator is mass surveillance.
CCTV or “closed-circuit television” means that government entities have access to footage from every day at every hour wherever their cameras are. As the Washington Post reports, the NSA has databases with billions of records to track smartphone users with the help of telecom companies. The NSA claims the intent is to find associates of known criminals.
Combine government surveillance with potential lapses in personal security with devices like Samsung TVs with “always on” microphones and 2017 is 1984.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey Predicted Tablets
Lovers of the film adaptation of the classic sci-fi tale 2001: A Space Odyssey saw this one coming. Written alongside the film adaptation in 1968, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick depicted a space-faring future with supercomputers.
One of the biggest predictions to come out of the legendary story, however, was the proliferation of tablet use. Whether an iPad or Surface fan, it is easy to agree on the reality Clarke and Kubrick envisioned.
Pro-tip: there is a sequel to the novel called 2010: Odyssey Two.
5. Douglas Adams Predicted Audio Translators AND Supercomputers
Clarke wasn’t the only sci-fi writer to incorporate supercomputers into his future narratives. Beloved for his whimsy and insight, Douglas Adams penned one of the now more famous philosophical quandaries. Characters in his book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wanted to know the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”
These beings developed Deep Thought in order to find that answer. There is also the Babel Fish which portended real-time audio translation. Beyond that, you have the guide for galactic hitchhiker’s itself as a digital info database. Noted science fiction writer Isaac Asimov also debuted a digital compendium in his Foundation universe.
However, the story “Moxon’s Master” by Ambrose Bierce from 1910 predates Deep Thought with its chess-playing automaton.
6. Ray Bradbury Prophesied Earbuds
This is another “given”.
By now, many readers know that the classic Ray Bradbury tale Fahrenheit 451 was predicted the coming of now ubiquitous earbuds as earphones.
As a result of their popularity, we now have inventions like “Here” earbuds that allow you to mix the volume on the real world. Having a “volume knob for your ears” seems useful, but also a little extra.
7. “Stand on Zanzibar” Predicted Electric Cars and Satellite TV
Thankfully, the prediction of a socially accepted eugenics pandemic from John Brunner’s sci-fi classic Stand On Zanzibar didn’t come to pass. What did come to pass were his predictions about both satellite TV and electric cars.
In fact, there’s a distinct list of things Brunner absolutely nailed about the new millennia:
- In-flight entertainment in EVERY seat
- China surpassing Russia as the U.S.’s main competitor
- The inflation of cost by at least sixfold
- People using “avatars” to represent themselves
- The European Union
And a few more things you can find here. It is seriously spooky how accurately Brunner predicted the state of the world in 2010 and beyond.
8. Neuromancer Saw the Advent of the Internet as we Know it
William Gibson has long been lauded for his book Neuromancer. Some credit him as the inventor of the term “cyberspace” which is open to debate, but he did predict some version of the internet in that book.
However, long before Gibson’s book came along in 1984, there was “From The ‘London Times’ in 1904” by Mark Twain. Originally published in 1898, the story follows Clayton, an army officer charged with the murder of an inventor. This inventor claimed to have invented a “limitless-distance telephone” called the “Telelectroscope”.
It connected everyone and was available freely to the public. This sound just a bit like the internet and, some suggest, social media specifically. But Gibson and Twain weren’t alone.
9. Orson Scott Card Predicted the Power of Blogging
Ender’s Game, originally published in 1985, extrapolated the proto-internet ARPAnet. It also predicted what we now call blogging.
Think about it: the two main characters, Peter and Violet, gain popularity via political essays. They put their thoughts on a public forum for everyone to see, share, and interact with. This netted them influence and power akin to the power influencers wield today thanks to Instagram and other social media platforms.
And, as we have seen with U.S. President Donald J. Trummp, social media can be a political platform–unless he blocks you of course.
10. “The World Set Free” Introduced the Atomic Bomb
The atomic bomb is a polarizing innovation. The destructive power may have helped put an end to WWII, but there is no denying the decimation it caused.
Perhaps troubling, but definitely prophetic: H.G. Wells predicted the atomic bomb in his work The World Set Free. Ultimately, as Wells and many writers of Utopian literature were wont to do, humanity stows its destructive impulses and uses atomic energy to eliminate the need for labor.
Of course, the atomic bombs humans actually created didn’t create a “blazing continual explosion” as those of Wells’ origin. Humanity banned the use of something like that (aka White Phosphorus) against civilians at varying points in the last 30 years. Despite this, militaries seem to keep using it.
11. Did Hideo Kojima Invent the Selfie?
In 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, you have the option of taking a “selfie” using a smartphone with a character named Raiden.
While there have been isolated incidences of selfies in creative works, they are more prominent in entertainment. Paris Hilton claimed that she invented the selfie, but a Swedish man did it as early as 1920.
Of course, weren’t self-portraits the OG, low-tech selfies? The #gpoy mystery continues.
12. Margaret Cavendish Predicted Submarines in the 1600s
You might have thought that Jules Verne was the first author to portend travel via gigantic underwater behemoths, but no. It was a woman by the name of Margaret Cavendish in 1666.
Fun fact: the Civil War era gave us our first militarized submarine-esque vehicle (though not sumbersible) known as “The Ironclad”. Previous attempts at submersible vehicles had been made as early as 1775. But Cavendish’s iteration from The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World stands as the first known instance of what we now call submarines.
A satire on utopian dreams, the book is considered proto-science fiction and featured submarines towed by fishmen.
13. Ernest Cline Predicted 3-D Drone Printing . . . Kind of
Ernest Cline, the author of popular novel Ready Player One, penned a follow-up book entitled Armada. While writing it, the author claims, he employed 3-D Drone Printing. The author told Bustle that, by the time the book came ready for publishing, that tech had become a reality.
The book also showcased quantum data teleportation which, as we now know, is also very much A Thing™.