Writing Wednesday: 10 Times Science Fiction Actually Predicted the Future

The genre of science fiction is used to satirically reflect modern-day society. The most skilled authors do this while crafting fantastical stories, set in other worlds or future eras, that also stand on their own as readable works of fiction. However, sci-fi isn’t an exact science used to accurately predict what technological and societal advancements humankind will actually make. At the time of writing a piece of science fiction, the actual dates of the future being envisioned seem so far ahead that it is perfectly reasonable to view them as being a Jetsons-like fantasy. But the nature of time being ongoing, these futuristic dates must eventually be reached. In the late ’40s, 1984 must surely have seemed eons away for George Orwell. But, of course, the year eventually did come and while it didn’t completely represent the globalised dystopia that he imagined, many of his predictions about state surveillance were disturbingly accurate.

One of the hottest news stories of this new year was the eerie accuracy with which Isaac Asimov predicted life in 2014. From the coffee machine timer to Skype and Facetime, the science fiction author was impressively spot-on with many of the forecasts he made for the next 50 years at the 1964 World’s Fair.  This got us thinking… What other science fiction predictions have actually come true?

1) Bluetooth and Earbuds

And in her ears the little seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in.

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1950

2) Skype and Facetime

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.

-Isaac Asimov at The World’s Fair, 1964

But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.

-E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops, 1909

Stepping to the Telephot on the side of the wall, he pressed a group of buttons and in a few minutes the faceplate of the Telephot became luminous, revealing the face of a clean-shaven man about thirty, a pleasant but serious face.

-Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+, 1911

3) Omnipresent CCTV

It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.

-George Orwell, 1984, 1949

4) Test Tube Babies and Genetic Engineering

In the Bottling Room all was harmonious bustle and ordered activity. Flaps of fresh sow’s peritoneum ready cut to the proper size came shooting up in little lifts from the Organ Store in the sub-basement. Whizz and then, click! the lift-hatches hew open; the bottle-liner had only to reach out a hand, take the flap, insert, smooth-down, and before the lined bottle had had time to travel out of reach along the endless band, whizz, click! another flap of peritoneum had shot up from the depths, ready to be slipped into yet another bottle, the next of that slow interminable procession on the band… “Reducing the number of revolutions per minute,” Mr. Foster explained. “The surrogate goes round slower; therefore passes through the lung at longer intervals; therefore gives the embryo less oxygen. Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par.” Again he rubbed his hands… “The lower the caste,” said Mr. Foster, “the shorter the oxygen.” The first organ affected was the brain. After that the skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy eyeless monsters.

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932

5) Touchscreen Tablets and Digital Media

When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug in his foolscap-size newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers…Switching to the display unit’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination…

-Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1951

6) The Atomic Bomb

Certainly it seems now that nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands…

-H.G. Wells, The World Set Free, 1914

7) Virtual Reality Games

Of all the thousands of forms of recreation in the city, these were the most popular. When you entered a saga, you were not merely a passive observer … You were an active participant and possessed – or seemed to possess – free will. The events and scenes which were the raw material of your adventures might have been prepared beforehand by forgotten artists, but there was enough flexibility to allow for wide variation. You could go into these phantom worlds with your friends, seeking the excitement that did not exist in Diaspar – and as long as the dream lasted there was no way in which it could be distinguished from reality.

-Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars, 1956

8) The Cubicle Workspace

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk – that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh – a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

-E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops, 1909

9) Debit and Credit Cards

…a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers…

-Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 1888

“The duplicate of the order,” said Edith as she turned away from the counter, after the clerk had punched the value of her purchase out of the credit card she gave him, “is given to the purchaser, so that any mistakes in filling it can be easily traced and rectified…” “An American credit card,” replied Dr. Leete, “is just as good in Europe as American gold used to be, and on precisely the same condition, namely, that it be exchanged into the currency of the country you are traveling in.”

-Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 1888

10) Radar and Submarines

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… By manipulating the entire apparatus like a searchlight, waves would be sent over a large area. Sooner or later these waves would strike a space flyer. A small part of these waves would strike the metal body of the flyer, and these rays would be reflected back to the sending apparatus. Here they would fall on the Actinoscope, which records only the reflected waves, not direct ones… From the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately estimated.

-Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+, 1911

For some time past vessels had been met by “an enormous thing,” a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.

-H.G. Wells, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870

Even if you’re not a science fiction author, a fair amount of imagination and forecasting is likely to go into every story you write. If you were to make Asimovian predictions for the next 50 years, what would they be?

About Paperblanks®: At Paperblanks, we believe that art should have a place in all aspects of life. That’s why we follow the artist’s way in everything we do – creating, crafting and releasing designs we believe have the power to touch people. For more about Paperblanks®, go to our website at paperblanks.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *