Should we be reading today’s science fiction to find out what new technologies we can expect to surface in the future? We decided to take a look at how science fiction writers of the last century or so imagined the future, and compare their ideas with the current reality.
The ubiquitous credit card was first described more than 130 years ago in Edward Bellamy's novel A Look Back. This financial technology did not actually get introduced until 1950, which may seem like a long time ago. But Bellamy wrote about it 60 years before its arrival.
Fintech has figured prominently in many other science fiction books as well. For example, cyberspace and hacking were described by William Gibson in Neuromancer in 1984. The author uses the term cyberspace and also alludes to big data that is presented as “ice.” The icebreakers in the book are analog iterations of modern tracking and malware programs that help criminals break into technology platforms and steal data. Gibson got this one right. Hacking and theft attempts abound and are becoming more sophisticated and effective.
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies were also described long before they threatened to decentralize systems and destroy financial companies. The first mention was in the book Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson in 1999. The author develops the concept of an information paradise where it’s possible to freely exchange information without state regulation and censorship.
What do we see today? Cryptocurrencies built on the principle of a decentralized registry are now another way of paying for goods and services, and blockchain is already used by top fintech companies to ensure security.
Internet of Things
Smart devices and the Internet of things (IoT) are also becoming commonplace technologies in everyday life. One of the first mentions of smartwatches can be found in One Hundred Years Ahead (1978) by Kir Bulychev. This book was written for children and also became a film series. One episode contains the first hint of a modern fitness bracelet that tracks vital signs.
The first prototype of the modern smartwatch, however, was described even earlier in 1964 in the Jetsons science fiction cartoon series where the watch is used to communicate and watch videos. The latter function has not yet been implemented in modern smartwatches, but it can’t be far behind.
Today we already have wearable IoT devices designed for the healthcare sector to integrate with artificial intelligence and track the user's vital signs and make predictions about possible diseases before they are detected by clinical diagnostics.
Automotive Industry Technologies
Writers also saw the future when it came to the automotive industry development.
Electric cars are gaining in popularity due to the trend towards environmental conservation. It is estimated that 540,000 electric cars will be sold in the European Union alone this year. Electric vehicles were first described with mathematical precision by John Brunner in Stand on Zanzibar in 1968. The author also predicted the number of people inhabiting the Earth at 7.7 billion, but he was off by a decade. The events in the book take place in 2010, but this is actually the current world population.
Flying cars currently under development by Porsche and Boeing are expected to be introduced later this year. This idea was first described by Philip K. Dick in the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). The author also wrote about ethical issues related to robots, which is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to artificial intelligence’s future.
For now, flying cars can only be seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Do you remember the blue Ford Anglia hovering over the suburbs of London? Self-driving cars, however, are real. Automobiles that require only partial control by humans, known as semi-self-driving cars, are already available.
The concept of a self-driving car was described by Isaac Asimov in a New York Times article after visiting the World’s Fair electronics exhibition in 1965. His prediction was off by a few years though. He expected it to happen in 2014.
Asimov was amazingly accurate though when he talked about artificial intelligence, big data, and robotics. All these technologies were described by him in The Robots of Dawn. In this book, robots are things that belong to people, which is the current legal status.
These are not the most daring predictions regarding artificial intelligence though. An internet-connected brain was described by Jeff Ryman in Air. In the book, people can exchange information without using anything but their brains. This worldwide information network is called Air, and this is what Elon Musk is developing with Neuralink.
A current prediction is that the implantation of a neurochip is not far away. The initial goal is to give users the ability to control a mobile phone and create text messages just by thinking about it.
The development of communication technology was also predicted long before it was introduced. For example, Herbert Wells talks about voicemail in Men Like Gods. The technology was similar to the voice messages we exchange in Telegram, as well as voice search and voice assistants like Siri.
Another interesting prediction is from the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams in 1979. The author speaks of a “bird” that can translate from one language to another in real-time. A modern version is Google Translate, which is becoming more and more intelligent and linguistically savvy every year.
And finally, it’s worth mentioning the boldest idea in the context of information communication technology. This is telepathy and teleportation described by Rudy De Waele in Shift 2020. This is currently impossible. Telepathy is not recognized by the scientific community, and there are no predictions about when this ability may become real. But give it time.
As you can see, many science fiction writers have predicted the future and some may have even written the script for technological developments. They didn’t always get it exactly right, but if you’re interested in the future of technology it’s probably worth reading some science fiction to get an idea about where things are headed.
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