5 sci-fi writers from the past whose books predicted the future

Forbiddenplanet

Predicting the future is not just over-tight silver suits. Although no one has yet invented a time machine (that we know of) – some inventive sci-fi writers have had some suspiciously accurate ideas.

JULES VERNE (1828-1905)

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The doodle-happy author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the man. Who could forget Captain Nemo’s electric submarine? Or the ‘projectiles’ in From the Earth to the Moon that carried passengers? But he also invented concepts. Written in 1889, his short story In the Year 2889 described an Earth Chronicle, a spoken word newsfeed where subscribers could hear ‘interesting conversations with reporters, statesmen and scientists.’ He also claimed that one day we could even advertise in the sky. Now that’s what I call a lofty idea.

HG WELLS – (1866-1946)

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OK, no time machines, invisible men or War of the Worlds’ Martians arriving as yet – but in his book Men Like Gods, Wells had the idea of an answerphone  ‘…people do not talk together on the telephone. A message is sent…and there it waits until he chooses to tap his accumulated messages.’ Ordinary stuff – until you know he was writing it in 1933. Even more amazing were the tanks that appeared in short story ‘The Land Iron Clads’ – published in 1903.

ARTHUR C CLARKE (1917-2008)

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Clarke – the brilliant man behind 2001: A Space Odyssey – had the best job title ever created: Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society. He developed the idea of the geosynchronous (round the earth) communication satellites in 1945. It was a reality by 1965.  He also talked about transferring contents of the human brain onto a computer. In 2005 he told the BBC ‘When their bodies begin to deteriorate you transfer their thoughts so their personalities would be immortal. Just save it on a CD-Rom and plug it in – simple!’ Not yet. But now people are working on related projects.

ISAAC ASIMOV (1920-1992)

Asimov

This brainiac – professor, prolific author and Mensa member, formulated the unique Three Laws of Robotics in the Robot series that began in 1953 – namely that 1) a robot could not harm a human being, 2) must obey its ‘master’ and 3) protect its own ‘life’ unless it conflicted with the previous two points. But this wasn’t all science fiction. It had a practical application – any piece of machinery should adhere to those laws, namely to function without harming the person operating it. In his book Foundation, considered a sci-fi classic, Asimov also predicted the Encyclopedia Galactica, a vast collection of all knowledge, maintained by thousands of researchers. Sounds familiar? Just check out Wikipedia.

RAY BRADBURY (1920-2012)

RayBradbury

Bradbury actually loathed technology and lived long enough to be anti-internet. But in his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, characters were plugging themselves into their personal stereos, quarter of a century before the Walkman was invented: ‘And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight…’ The mechanical hound in Fahrenheit 451 that sniffed people out by their perspiration – is now being applied by NASA as the E-Nose, which helps astronauts monitor the air quality on board their vessels, sniffing out anything that might cause a problem.

If you want to get a look into tomorrow’s world looks like one way is to buy some sci-fi novels. Question is, which ones?

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38 replies
  1. Respectful
    Respectful says:

    Fascinating read especially love your inclusion of Issac, who really did have an eye for the future. Just look at his 1964 predictions

    Reply
  2. Monokong
    Monokong says:

    Nice article, but a bit superficial. There are many authors that made deeper predictions, Huxley’s Brave New World to name one.

    Reply
  3. Austin
    Austin says:

    Don’t forget about Douglas Adams. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he predicted touch screens and TVs controlled with hand motions, all things that have come to fruition recently.

    Reply
  4. Tom Law
    Tom Law says:

    You missed out the best one of all, George Orwell. Who could forget Animal Farm or 1984. He for saw the monitoring of private citizens in their own homes by their governments. Big Brother is watching you.

    Reply
  5. Dan
    Dan says:

    Don’t forget Orson Scott Card: He accurately predicted Internet usage, even calling it the “the nets” in Enders Game written in 1984.

    Reply
    • David
      David says:

      The internet has it’s roots dating back to the 50′s…. Card’s “Nets, boards and forums” that Ender’s brother and sister use are hardly original predictions.

      Reply
    • Ben Carlsen
      Ben Carlsen says:

      I’m not sure that counts, seeing as how the Internet and bulletin board systems already existed at that point, which was probably what he was basing it on.

      Reply
  6. todd
    todd says:

    Spider Robinson had a pretty decent take on the internet in his book Mindkiller. Had the protagonist doing some research and ordering up stuff ‘off the TV’

    Reply
  7. Gavin smith
    Gavin smith says:

    Asamov did not formulate the three laws. His editor gave him the laws and proposed how they could be the basis for several stories. They were fully mature when he got them and he was never shy about giving credit where credit was do. You should fact check. This bit of information can be found all over any of the introductions for the robot books.

    Reply
  8. Andreas K
    Andreas K says:

    E M Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops’ is a pretty scary prediction of Facebook, of the information economy, and of how people adapt to the technological/megacities environment. I learned of its existence through the book ‘You Are Not A Gadget’, which comments on how digital culture sucks us into some paths/patterns we might want to reconsider and control.

    Oh, and the short story is from 1909!

    Reply
  9. Andy
    Andy says:

    Robert Heinlein, a contemporary of Asimov, also included a notion of todays internet in ‘Friday’. All wonderfully prescient authors. JP must have had a time of it deciding which to count among the top 5 in this catagory.

    Reply
  10. Gezzer
    Gezzer says:

    The truth is with enough time and distance any half decent “hard” Sci-fi author will be pretty spot on with their predictions. It has to do with the nature of the beast. What’s considered “hard” Sci-fi uses extrapolation of current trends in science to predict how applied science will affect the future world we live in. Think of any story that contains elements of human body augmentation, say like Gibson’s stories. The idea of a hard drive in your head sounds pretty out there right? But when you think about it for a bit, even when the technology was in it’s earliest forms it wouldn’t be that hard to see miniaturization taken to a point where a mind machine interfacing would be possible.
    So while all but the first two authors are some of my favourites (I find slogging through the 18th/19th century english writing style more of a chore than a pleasure) I could easily add at least another 20 to the list. As could virtually every lover of the genre’.

    Reply
  11. Basil
    Basil says:

    I would nominate Roger Zelanzy, who in his book “Jack of Shadows”, invented “re-spawning”- the means by which million of gamers get killed and rejoin their games back at a spawn point. Jack, the hero of the story, is an immortal who, when killed, re-spawns on the other side of the planet. He event postulated “campers” who would hang around the spawn point and kill enemies as they re-spawned.

    Reply
  12. hahawow
    hahawow says:

    how in the hell can you not put george orwell in here? 1984 predicts the EXACT thing that is happening in our world

    if your passion for the 2nd was matched by that for the 1st, and an independent, honest media and a FREE internet were prevalent today…. wouldnt tyranny always be prevented and held at bay?

    ITS IN THE REGION OF IGNORANCE THAT TYRANNY BEGINS.

    Reply
  13. maksratwings
    maksratwings says:

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE. How has everyone failed to mention william gibson?? William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in 1984 with ‘neuromancer’. He predicted fabricators or maker bots in ‘virtual light’. The world we are living in now is nothing short of a william gibson novel from the 80s.

    Reply
  14. Angry Voter
    Angry Voter says:

    Tesla called for a world wide wireless shared library over a century ago. He even developed some of the technology but the government was only interested in remote control weapons which he refused to give them.

    If you think that’s far out, look up Goddard – he developed the ion engine over a century ago too – but the government was only interested in what would become the bazooka.

    Reply
  15. Bob Perry
    Bob Perry says:

    For some reason Edgar Allen Poe’s Eureka is always left off lists like this, even though he has envisioned cosmology to an unbelievably accurate sense. In fact, if you read the book you will find many things he discusses that no one in his time period knew anything about and yet he either hits it on the head or comes very close scientifically.

    Reply
  16. Lillacat3
    Lillacat3 says:

    Dude, Asimov predicted that each home would have a video-piping system that would allow the dwellers to choose from a vast library and stream videos.

    First mention of it was in “The Caves of Steel”:

    Think of the inefficiency of a hundred thousand houses for a hundred thousand families as compared with a hundred-thousand-unit section; a book-film collection in each house as compared with a Section film concentrate; independent video for each family as compared with video-piping systems.

    Asimov predicted Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu Plus.

    Reply
  17. Anon
    Anon says:

    More interestingly, Asimov had a short story about how everyone has little computers they carry around with them as calculators… and they rely on them so much they’ve forgotten how to do math in their head.

    Heinlein wrote “Coventry”, which every libertarian should read. A land where it’s every man for himself does not become a libertarian utopia, it becomes a gang-dominated anarchy more like Somalia or civil-wartime Lebanon.

    Reply
  18. Anon
    Anon says:

    And in his short story about geosynchronous satellites (Satellites synchronized with the earth’s surface rotation, so they appear to hover) The bad guy mentions they will be used for porn and other mind-destroying programming, since that is what the public really wants.

    Reply
  19. Smithe623
    Smithe623 says:

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I’ll send this information to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a good read. Thanks for sharing! cfbeeeagakdeaaek

    Reply

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