A surprising and sometimes scary look at the predictions of science fiction.
The ten-dollar word for it is “anti-mimesis”: art imitating life. The phrase was first used by Oscar Wilde in 1889 when he wrote “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” We certainly see that in many other facets of the arts, but when it comes to science fiction, there’s some hefty promises yet to be made real. So where’s the flying cars and personal jetpacks? How come we can’t ask the HAL 9000?
Well, we’re a far way from some of these technologies, but if you take stock, science fiction has hit the target a number of times throughout history. In 2016, we’ve had ample time to pass the years projected by early speculative fiction writers at the dawn of literature. It can be surprising, stunning, and even scary to consider the prophecies that have, indeed, come to pass.
If you take stock, science fiction has hit the target a number of times throughout history.”
To save time, yes, we know Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Leonardo Da Vinci predicted half of transportation technology. Those are old, well-worn examples – though no less mind-blowing. Let’s look at some new stuff…
Predicted in: 2001: a Space Odyssey; Blade Runner; The Jetsons
Skype brought us fully into the era of the video conference call. It’s so commonplace that the business world now takes it for granted. Since we have flat screens and touch screens, even the aesthetics are on-target. It would be trivial to mimic George Jetson’s wall-mounted big-screen video phone, given a big enough tablet. And let’s lump flat-screen interfaces in with it.
Yes, Star Trek touch screen interfaces are here and now, with a Raspberry Pi and the right downloads. Oh, and the Apple Watch and Google Glass have sort of replaced Dick Tracy‘s wrist radio/TV as seen in this clip.
Predicted in: Larry Niven’s Known Space series
Larry Niven’s short story “Flash Crowd” details the social impact of cheap teleportation and instantaneous communication to create an effect where any minor event can cause a sudden crowd to converge on it. We don’t have the teleporters, but instant mediums like Twitter have given us the ability to spread news of an event like wildfire and cause a huge crowd of strangers to show up at a focal point. The “Arab Spring” demonstrations in the Middle East in 2010 were an example of historic impact. On the lighter side, flash mobs today are used to organize surreal pranks, such as this real-life musical number staged at an Antwerp train station.
Now, imagine if we did have teleporters. That would complicate your Pokémon Go hunting a bit, wouldn’t it? Speaking of video games…
Multi-User Virtual Environments
Predicted in: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash; Star Trek‘s holodeck; Larry Niven and Steven Barnes’ Dream Park series
From 3D first-person shooters like Quake to shared virtual environments like Second Life to present-day shared worlds like Minecraft, it was inevitable that we would create world-sized environments to share avatars of ourselves in a mutual fantasy environment. Just name-dropping Minecraft gives us an excuse to link this roller coaster created in the game…
Obligatory World Wide Web references…
While we’re at it, we will lump in the whole World Wide Web, which was not only foreseen in science fiction but in countless Popular Science articles of the 1950s. Some of you might think the social impact of the Internet was foretold most accurately in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Not even close. Try E. M. Forster’s 1909 short story The Machine Stops. Everybody stays indoors all the time depending on a connected network to provide all their needs, resulting in socially stunted people who are uncomfortable and awkward meeting in person. Oh, and it’s the spiritual predecessor to The Matrix, too. And a closer medal for very first accurate vision goes to none other than Mark Twain; his 1898 short story From the ‘London Times’ of 1904 depicts the “telelectroscope,” a device hooked up to the then-novel telephone which networked the world together. The story even goes into detail describing what it’s like to “surf” on this device!
Predicted in: Robert A. Heinlein’s novels Beyond This Horizon; Double Star; and Stranger in a Strange Land, circa 1942-1961
In fact, when the actual water bed was invented in the late 1960s, they couldn’t patent it because it was demonstrated already in Heinlein’s fiction. Heinlein himself had thought of the idea while bedridden in the hospital with pulmonary tuberculosis after his stint in the US Navy. How’s that for unexpected?
Predicted in: Brave New World; Gattaca; Dune; Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday; Larry Niven’s Ringworld
Countless science fiction works have imagined the human ability to manipulate the building blocks of life itself, decades before it became reality. Today, our biological engineering has advanced to the point where companies including GMO crops in food is a big controversy, though one likely to blow over as people get used to the idea. Whether through selective breeding, the threat of eugenics, or the medical miracle of stem cell products, mankind has been grappling with the capabilities of manipulating life and at the same time the moral and ethical problems of doing so. It’s no longer a question of whether we use these god-like powers; it’s a question of how much. Here’s your sobering scene from Gattaca.
We have to pass along this site we stumbled upon, Technovelgy.com, detailing many more devices and inventions predicted in science fiction and our real-life progress towards their invention. If you’re going to get your flying car, personal jetpack, or even your hoverboard, watch this space for early developments.
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