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December 07, 2008

5 Inventions We Owe to Science Fiction

Science Fiction Inventions
iStockphoto / Alex Nikada

In more ways than one can probably imagine, science fiction has helped generate ideas for investors dating back centuries. Human imagination generally has preceded ingenuity, which is increasingly catching up as technology accelerates, making ideas that were once solely in the realm of sci-fi more feasible in the real world. Over the past few decades, many literary concepts have entered the real world, including:

Electronic Book Readers

Say what you will about the level of sophistication of devices such as the Kindle, Electronic books are a growing segment today in large part due to the vision put forth by Douglas Adams. His classic 1979 work "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" used a self-reference to the novel to describe the process of how "you push this button here, you see, and the screen lights up, giving you the index.."

Wireless Tracking Monitor Bracelets

Using wireless technology to transmit the location of a person, tracking bracelets are used to keep tabs on house-arrest criminals as well as honing in on the location of various VIPs, for security purposes, using wireless technology. First mentioned in the 1990 novel "Shadowspeer" by Patricia Jo Clayton, in the context of government officials keeping track of inter-stellar travelers, the bracelets gained widespread use beginning in the late 1990s.

Light Sculptures

While Science Fiction has brought us its share of operational innovations, there are also a number of breakthroughs in technical art that can be attributed to the genre. In 1973, Isaac Asimov's "Light Verse" foretold light sculptures as means of creative expression. Asimov described them as "a new symphony of light...crystalline effects that bathed every guest in wonder..."

Networked Electronic Voting Machines

Although some might argue that we're still waiting for reliable electronic voting, John Brunner envisioned electronic voting in his 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider". Interestingly, the novel is based on the premise of a network which had shifted the powers to the elites and a hacker who uses a program to help democratize society once again. While others foresaw electronic voting, none of them saw a full, decentralized network of voting the way Brunner did.

Computerized Language Translation Software

Since Adams' novel broke a lot of technical ground, we return to "Hitchhiker's" for our final invention reference. Not only did the novel foretell computerized language translation, but it would even lend the term "Babel Fish" to the web site that would make computerized translation available to the general public.

This guest post comes from Maya Richard (@ gmail.com) who writes on the subject of high speed internet.

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