Science Fiction Predicts the Future
Let's not beat around the bush. It's true. Science fiction predicts the future.
In the book When the Sleeper Wakes published in 1910 described highways that moved like conveyor belts. Basically, moving walkways found in tube stations and airports.
He also foresaw a world where people are continually bombarded with adverts. So nothing like today.
Arthur C. Clark
In a 1959 essay, the sci-fi author Arthur C. Clark predicted a global satellite network which could project TV broadcasts and hundreds of channels across the world.
For his encore, he also predicted a "personal transceiver, so small and compact that every man carries one" and "the time will come when we will be able to call a person anywhere on Earth merely by dialling a number."
It wasn't until 1962, seventeen years later, before the Telestar 1 first relayed a transatlantic television signal. And the first mobile phone, a Motorola, was used in 1973.
And he predicted the HP’s Microsoft Tablet PC in 2002 in his book 2001: A Space Odyssey fifty years early.
In his 1888 book Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy predicted credit cards. He envisioned people borrowing money from a centralised bank on credit, eliminating physical money.
Actual credit cards weren't used until 1950.
In Ralph 124C 41+ Hugo Gernsback writes a scene where Alice 212B423, the book's heroine, uses a telephot. A video-telephone device which she uses to call for help 4,000 miles away.
The famous example we all know, leading to the term 'Orwellian'. In his 1939 novel 1984 he depicts a world under the control of a totalitarian state characterized by surveillance, misinformation, and propaganda. Telescreens are used to watch a person's every move in violation of every sense of privacy.
In 1942, closed-circuit television (CCTV) was first used and today in Britain there is one surveillance camera for every 11 people.
Black Mirror, the sci-fi anthology television series created by Charlie Booker and our version of the Twilight Zone, has gained a reputation for predicting the future.
In the episode 'Nose Dive', we see a world run on 'Likes'. How many likes you have determines what job you can have, where you can live and what kind of customer service you receive. Not long after, China announces a new social credit system which is eerily similar.
In the episode 'National Anthem', the fictional Prime Minister is forced to have relations with a pig. Four years later, British Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of doing the same thing. When asked how he felt about the apparently prophetic prediction, Brooker said:
I did genuinely for a moment wonder if reality was a simulation, whether it exists only to trick me. Which isn’t meant to sound narcissistic. It’s just a bit of a worry.
What's going on here?
This list is endless. One day, I'll do a list of technology Star Trek predicted.
Now, putting aside that sci-fi writers may be taking secret trips to the future between novels, what's going on here?
The creation of sci-fi is a tool which allows authors to explore contemporary social, environmental and technological issues. Authors don't have to deal with things like financial restraints, global politics or more limitations like reality, sanity or the laws of physics. Meaning that they can reach for the stars.
If you consider the sheer quantity of science fiction written from the 1940s and beyond and often by incredibly intelligent people like Arthur C Clark, it's perhaps not surprising that one or two predictions hit the mark.
And many of these authors too did their homework and were tuned in to current ideas. Then, of course, intelligent men reading sci-fi become inspired by what they've read.