10 ways science fiction predicted the future
We live in a time of rapid advancement in technology, with access to equipment that was a distant dream just 30 years ago.
As we look back over the last 10 years with our 500 Words 2020 Live Lesson, here are some ways novelists have predicted (with eerie accuracy) some of the technology we have access to today.
The Lunar Landing
Ok, this isn’t a piece of technology, but it was too good to leave out.
In his 1865 book, From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne foretold aspects of the Apollo 11 landing, which took place over 100 years later.
Verne wrote of astronauts launching in an aluminium capsule from Florida, including precise calculations on how much force was needed to push their ship out of Earth’s atmosphere.
Mass surveillance equipment
You might have been expecting this one.
George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984 predicted many aspects of today’s modern world.
But with one CCTV camera to every 14 people in London alone, one might be inclined to draw comparisons with Orwell’s dystopian state in which the public is monitored by “Big Brother”.
Credit and debit cards
Even what you pay with on a daily basis was predicted over a century ago.
Edward Bellamy introduced the term ‘credit card’ to the world in his 1888 novel Looking Backward. The people of his utopian future had no need for paper money; they all carried a card that allowed them to spend credit from one central bank.
In his dystopian 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote of a world that had what he called “thimble radios”.
Also described as “little seashells”, these were portable audio devices not too dissimilar to wireless headphones, which didn’t become available until over half a century later.
In the current world of 4G networks and broadband in practically every home, it's difficult to imagine a present without the internet.
Published in pre-web 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer predicted amongst other things; the World Wide Web, hacking and virtual reality.
This was all almost a decade before the internet became what we know today.
With solar panels appearing on rooftops everywhere, would it surprise you that solar power was predicted over a century ago?
In his 1911 novel, Ralph 124C 41+, Hugo Gernsback wrote of his adventurers visiting solar power installations.
This was written over 60 years before the introduction of the first solar-powered calculators.
In 1942, author Robert Heinlein wrote a short story about a physically disabled inventor named Waldo F. Jones.
In this story, Waldo creates and patens “Waldo F. Jones' Synchronous Reduplicating Pantograph”; a mechanical hand that can be remotely operated.
In acknowledgment of this story, the real life remote manipulator arms (pictured) used in the nuclear industry are called “Waldos”.
AI, virtual assistants and tablets
In the 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, (more than 30 years before the first tablet computer was released), Arthur C. Clarke wrote about an electronic paper or the “newspad” that people in this world read.
He also envisioned the voice-activated super computer HAL 9000, not too dissimilar from the voice-activated virtual assistants that are now a regular feature of many homes and businesses, and warned of the dangers represented by artificial intelligence, a theme that still reoccurs regularly in science fiction.
Satellite TV and electric cars
First published in 1968, John Brunner’s dystopian novel Stand on Zanzibar is set in the year 2010. This novel is packed to the brim with accurate predictions of the future, including a popular leader of the US called President Obomi.
And that’s just the start.
Brunner wrote about vehicles being increasingly run on rechargeable electric fuel cells, and TV news channels going global via satellite.
Even medical miracles were predicted. Martin Caidin’s 1972 novel Cyborg follows pilot Steve Austin, who gets seriously injured from crashing during a flight. He is left with only one limb and blind in one eye.
During the novel, a group of scientists are able to provide Austin with new legs, a bionic arm and a removable eye with a camera, making him a mixture of human and machine or a ‘cyborg’.
This novel was written over 20 years before the first bionic arm transplant.
In this year's 500 Words Live Lesson, we’ll be looking at how the past, present and future can influence the stories we write. Join BBC Teach and 500 Words on Thursday 16th January at 11am, for a very special Live Lesson for the 10th year of the 500 Words story writing competition. Find out more here.