Science fiction — a genre filled with fantastical stories about what could one day be. Many Sci-Fi creatives build a future world that mostly reflects the present. Others however, have a very keen eye for what advancements are really to come. Here is a list of 25 predictions that science fiction writers dreamed up that actually came true.
Edward Bellamy’s utopian science fiction novel Looking Backward was published in 1888, where citizens received “credit” instead of money for their work, and could use this credit to make purchases. The world’s first debit cards were available for use on networked ATMs some 89 years after the novel.
In 1903, H.G. Wells’ short story “The Land Ironclads” appeared in an issue of Strand Magazine. The ‘land ironclads’ in question were giant metal machines that carried soldiers and had remote-controlled guns. Soon after in 1916, the first real tanks were used in battle. Around the same time, people started calling Wells a “prophet of the future.”
Photo by Tony Hisgett from Flickr Creative Commons
Geostationary Satellite Communications
Author C. Clarke’s paper “The Space-Station: Its Radio Applications,” first made public in 1945, was the first to suggest the idea of using satellites for communication across the globe. Since Clarke was both a physicist and science fiction author, some suggest his goal with the paper was not to predict the future, but to invent it.
While the term ‘android’ has gone through an evolution of meaning over the past 150 years or so, the first to use it in a modern sense — a robot designed to look and act like a human — was French author Augustine Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who wrote The Future Eve (1886). The idea of the android was further popularized in the move “Metropolis” (1927).
Known as the father of cyberpunk, William Gibson is best known for the novel Neuromancer, published in 1984, which predicted the invention of wearable tech. Here are a few great photos of Gibson trying out Google Glass in 2013.
Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, published in 1964, speaks of a “Newspad” that Floyd used to scan electronic newspapers. He would click on “postage-sized rectangles” on the screen that expand to fill the screen. That’s like… exactly what the iPad is today, minus Candy Crush.
Philip K. Dick published his one and only children’s book in 1966, called Nick and the Glimmung. It featured an alien who could print copies of anything. The idea was probably no more than fun and games for Dick, but it ended up coming true in recent years!
Photo by Keith Kissel from Flickr Creative Commons
Any fan of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will remember the Bablel fish that sits in your ear and translates any and every language you encounter throughout the galaxy. Little did Adams’ know, the company Lexifone has developed an App that does just that, minus the fish.
World Wide Web
David Brin’s EARTH is a 1990 science fiction novel. In it, he predicted the World Wide Web. Granted, WWW was technically invented in 1989, but Brin’s description was an incredibly accurate picture of the web today; including blogs, videos, forums and news-media outlets.
Star Trek the Original Series was a show before its time, dreaming up many technologies that have become reality today. Though no prediction was as accurate as the Bluetooth earpiece communicator. You can actually buy one of these designed to look like an original Star Trek communicator from ThinkGeek.
The original Total Recall (1990), a film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, accurately predicted that the future world would have driverless cars.
Genetic engineering — it’s a thing. But the idea of it has been creeping us out for some time now, since Aldous Huxley dreamed it up in Brave New World, published in 1932. We’re actually ahead of the game, since the book is set in AD 2540.
Arguably one of the most annoyingly inaccurate technologies out there, but hey we got it done. Arthur C. Clarke knew we would, by creating the character HAL 9000, a voice activated antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1964). The film was released in 1968.
Plastic Eating Bacteria
In Michael Chrichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969), an extraterrestrial microbe that eats plastic begins to wreak havoc in Arizona. Today, we rely on microbes like these to eat all the garbage we leave floating in the oceans.
Spray on Clothes
If only these had caught on more. Stanislaw Lem thought they might — his 1961 novel Return from the Stars features cans of spray on clothes in sold in hotels and salons everywhere.
Arthur C. Clarke does it again, predicting the invention of remote surgery in his 1964 book 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 2001, patients located in Rome were already undergoing virtual surgery by doctors in California.
Here’s an excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s seminal dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, written in 1951: “And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.” Sound familiar? Bradbury calls them ‘Seashells’ but we now know them as earbuds.
Lie Detector Test
Authors Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg worked together on the The Achievements of Luther Trant, published in 1910, following a psychologist-detective who uses the latest technologies to solve crimes, including a “tell whodunit,” AKA a lie detector.
In Vitro Fertilization
Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924) is not actually a work of fiction, but the text of a lecture by scientist JBS Haldane. He discusses the limitless possibilities of applied science, and actually suggests that humans might one day gain control over their own evolution by creating test tube babies — or in vitro fertilization. Louise Brown was the first IVF baby, born on July 25 1978.
Virtual Reality Video Games
In 1956, Arthur C. Clarke published The City and the Stars, which takes place a billion years in the future. The city is run by the Central Computer, and Clarke takes the readers through his interpretation of the evolution of information technology with incredible detail. He describes “sagas,” which involve total-immersion virtual entertainment — just like virtual reality today.
Photo by Amber Case from Flickr Creative Commons
Polytron Technologies developed a prototype for the world’s first transparent smartphone in 2013, but that was old hat for HG Wells, who dreamed up the technology in Things to Come, published in 1936.
Antidepressents are one of those scientific advancements that seems out of this world. Can you really use medicine to affect your mood? Aldous Huxley figured so; in Brave New World (1932) he came up with a drug that brings on calm and happiness, but also keeps people from focusing on the real reasons for their unhappiness. That’s hauntingly familiar.
In 1989, Isaac Asimov published an essay, entitled “Future Fantastic” in Special Reports Magazine. The Internet hadn’t been invented, yet Asimov already knew what the future would bring. He called the library a “clumsy tool” and insisted that “Tomorrow’s technochildren will have a ready means of satiating their curiosity.”
Jonathan Swift’s published Gulliver’s Travels, a satire, way back in 1726. Part 3 refers to the fact that Mars has 2 moons, even though they weren’t discovered until 1877. He didn’t get their orbital distances quite right, but we can forgive him for that.
Image by Cyril Rana from Flickr Creative Commons
In Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124c 41+, published in 1911 and set in 2660, people use what’s called a “faceplate” in order to video chat with each other. The fact that the name is so similar to what Apple came up with for FaceTime is more than a little bit eerie. Maybe Steve Jobs was a Gernsback fan?