Science Fiction Predictions That Came True

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Today it is not all that uncommon to be shopping at your local Wal-Mart and see items that could only be found in science fiction movies just a few years ago (3D TV I’m looking at you).  Science and technology have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years and commerce has jumped right in there to put the best items right at our fingertips at lower and lower prices.  Read on to find out more about some seemingly prophetic depictions of modern concepts.

Moon Landing-In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel, “From the Earth to the Moon”, the first manned mission to the moon was launched in December from Florida. The crew consisted of three men who were seated in a capsule made entirely of aluminum.  Verne’s sequel, “Around the Moon” tells the rest of their story.  Following their moonwalk, the fictional crew splashes down in the Pacific ocean and is picked up by a U.S. Navy ship.  Hmmmm….any of that sound familiar?

The similarities don’t end there.  Verne’s capsule was called the Columbiad and NASA’s command module was called Columbia.  The cost of the program in the book ($12.1 billion US in 1969 dollars) is fairly close  to the total cost of the Apollo program until Apollo 8 ($14.4 billion US dollars).  Verne even got small details correct, like that fact that when his characters reach space they experience weightlessness.

The Internet-Today it is common knowledge that Al Gore invented the internet.  Too bad he was beaten to it by almost 100 years when Mark Twain wrote about it in one of his occasional science fiction stories (From the London Times of 1904).  Twain called his fictional invention the ‘telelectroscope’ and it was a telephone based system that connected people the world over with both audio and video.

…and he now took the fancy that he would like to have the telelectroscope and divert his mind with it. He had his wish. The connection was made with the international telephone-station, and day by day, and night by night, he called up one corner of the globe after another, and looked upon its life, and studied its strange sights, and spoke with its people, and realised that by grace of this marvellous instrument he was almost as free as the birds of the air, although a prisoner under locks and bars. He seldom spoke, and I never interrupted him when he was absorbed in this amusement. I sat in his parlour and read, and smoked, and the nights were very quiet and reposefully sociable, and I found them pleasant. Now and then I would her him say ‘Give me Yedo;’ next, ‘Give me Hong-Kong;’ next, ‘Give me Melbourne.’ And I smoked on, and read in comfort, while he wandered about the remote underworld, where the sun was shining in the sky, and the people were at their daily work. Sometimes the talk that came from those far regions through the microphone attachment interested me, and I listened.

Pretty impressive considering this was written in 1898.

Radar-Back in 1911 Hugo Gernsback wrote a science fiction novel titled Ralph 124C 41+.  The title is a play on words meaning “one to foresee for many”.  The book predicted an amazing amount of technology that we use today, including remote controlled television, tape recorders and solar power.

One of his most interesting predictions was radar.  Gernsback’s novel described a  “pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light ray is reflected from a bright surface…from the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately estimated.”

In 1934, 24 years after Ralph’s publication, the U.S. Navy revealed its pulsing radar system.

Video Chat-This was also described by Hugo Gernsback in Ralph 124C 41+.  His Telephot was a wall-mounted screen that connected you to others with the push of a few buttons. In Gernsback’s story, his hero even meets his future girlfriend over the Telephot in case of crossed wires.

Today we have Skype and almost every new computer comes with a built-in webcam.  AT&T introduced the first ‘picturephone’ during the 1964 World’s Fair.  The telephot  preceded that by over 50 years.  Interestingly, it also included a universal translator, where language translation could be opted using a dial control.

Credit Cards- Back in 1888 when Edward Bellamy penned his utopian novel Looking Backward there was no such thing as store credit, unless perhaps you personally knew the shop keeper. In his book, Bellamy described credit card transactions that could be taking place today, even down to the duplicate receipts.

The novel is about a man who falls asleep in 1888 to awaken in the year 2000 to a socialist society.  In the story, each person is given a certain line of credit on his or her card and the government uses part of the GDP to pay off that credit.  I suppose in this manner the card is more like a modern day debit card than a credit card, per se.  It also closely mirrors the government issued debit cards that are given out these days to welfare and food stamp recipients in the U.S.  Bellamy even described how the credit card could be used the world over, for all types of currency.

About Guy McCardle

Guy McCardle is an American science writer and skeptic. He is a certified Infection Prevention Specialist and served proudly as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A devoted father and husband, he offers his unique viewpoints regarding science and the public interest.
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6 Responses to Science Fiction Predictions That Came True

  1. Aaron says:

    Very cool article. It makes you stop and think about the sci-fi that is written today, and what kind of marvelous inventions will be inspired by it. Lightsabers? The Matrix? Nanobots? Space fighters? It almost seems funny now to think about that stuff seriously, but I’ll bet the telephot was too in Gernsback’s time.

  2. Guy McCardle says:

    Thanks Aaron. I’ll bet that the things we consider to be high tech now won’t be able to hold a candle to the stuff we see a few years down the road. We live in exciting times.

  3. I actually own a copy of “Looking Backward”, now it looks like I should read it.

  4. A.L. says:

    Here’s more of the above (probably much better stuff still to be googled):
    http://www.computerscienceschools.net/blog/2010/15-sci-fi-predictions-that-came-true/

    Alfred Bester coined the term jaunting (for involuntary self-teleportation under life-threatening circumstances :D ) in his novel “Tiger!Tiger!” I’m pretty sure I heard it used as a synonym for teleportation recently – or was I just reading Stephen King?!

    As computers get ever smaller and closer to our skins, I’m sure we’ll implant them eventually and access Wikipedia via pure thought. And get hacked, too. Probably some pre-80’s guy (waaaaay before William Gibson or Bruce Sterling) first dreamt of that?

    Virtual reality or Flashback (see Dan Simmons) sound like the life-changing drugs of the future.

  5. Chad says:

    @A.L.: “Jaunting” was also used as a term for voluntary teleportation on a BBC series called “The Tomorrow People” that aired on Nickelodeon in the States in the late 70s/early 80s.

    @Guy: I love articles like this, please keep ‘em coming!

  6. Guy McCardle says:

    Thanks Chad. Will do.

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