It can sometimes be difficult to picture the technology of the future. Will we have flying cars or be able to teleport one hundred years from now? We don’t know. The science fiction writers of the past century didn’t know either, but they predicted some of the biggest advances in technology years before we could even conceive of them. We’ll review some of today’s current technologies that were predicted years, decades and sometimes even centuries before they actually came into fruition.
Video Calling (1911)
In 1911, Hugo Gernsback released his romance novel Ralph 124C 41+. This incredibly futuristic book outlines many contraptions, but among them is the “telephot”, a device that includes both video and telephone. The heroine of the story uses this device to send a call for help. Though the book described the “telephot” as working within the operator system that existed the early 1900s (with a “central” operator routing all calls), it is the first mention of video calling in literature or popular culture. We now have many options when it comes to video calling software – whether on the Internet such as Skype or over mobile networks such as Facetime or WhatsApp. The “telephot” is also only one of the many future technologies Gernsback predicted in the novel, which also includes social media and solar power. Because of these predictions, Many think of Hernsback as the father of science fiction.
Bluetooth Earbuds (1953)
In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury describes small seashells that characters wear in their ears from which they can hear “music and talk.” These shells are not connected to any wires and describe a very close approximation to Bluetooth earbuds. If this seems like a less impressive prediction, consider that the book was released a year before inventors first connected an earphone to a radio and five years before headphones for stereos were invented.
Arthur C. Clarke was known for realism in his science fiction books. In his book 2001: A Space Odyssey, he described a pad the size of a piece of paper that acted as a “Newspad” that allowed characters to view electronic papers from around the world, with a “postage-stamp-sized rectangle that would expand until it neatly filled the screen.” In 1968, some of the first touchscreen technology was in use and early computers also existed, but this goes far beyond what they had at the time. Clarke predicted this early version of tablets such as iPads, which wouldn’t come to be for at least another 20 years.
Electric cars and DVRs (1969)
John Brunner’s 1969 book Stand On Zanzibar pictures America in the year 2019 and includes people who drive cars that are rechargeable and powered by electricity. While not everyone in America has converted to hybrid or electric cars, they are now commonplace.
John Brunner’s book also mentioned technology that would allow people to watch their favorite television programs whenever they want. While this sounds commonplace to us now, in 1968 there were only around 11 channels and no way to record or look back on television or news programs.
Bionic limbs (1972)
In 1972, Martin Caidin released his book Cyborg which would be come the hit TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. The main character, pilot Steve Austin receives bionic limbs, making him part man and part machine. Whereas people who receive bionic limbs today don’t have all of the special abilities that Steven Austin does in the book, there are some pretty amazing things happening with the technology of bionic limb and organ transplants. Twenty years after Cyborg was first released, the first bionic arm was transplanted. The recipient, Robert Campbell Aird, was able to move his new arm by earing a cap through with electrical brain impulses were detected. Advancements in science have led to not only bionic limbs but technologically engineered livers, kidneys and other organs.
Fifteen years before Bitcoin launched in 2009, Bruce Sterling's book Heavy Weather described something remarkably similar. His book describes "electronic, private cash, unbacked by any government, untraceable, completely anonymous, global in reach, lightninglike in speed, ubiquitous, fungible and usually highly volatile."This is spot on for cryptocurrency, especially over the past few years.
None of us - including science fiction writers - know exactly what new inventions and technology the future might hold. However, in the past, some SciFi writers have been eerily accurate in their predictions. What does the future hold for us? We might be able to find some answers in today's science fiction books.