5 Inventions We Owe to Science Fiction

Books Philosophy Singularity Technology

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.

31 thoughts on “5 Inventions We Owe to Science Fiction

  1. I just installed the language translator on my site today and tried it out…holy crap. I can’t believe how it works, and so fast and, and is it really accurate??? But technology is great!

  2. This is a ridiculously poorly researched article. Most of these items have their roots in sci-fi, yes, but the works and authors mentioned were each themselves borrowing from much older sources.

  3. Electronic Book readers, Wireless tracking devices, and translation machines were used in Star Trek in the late 1960s, and probably before then.

  4. Agreed. Actually important items like radar (Hugo Gernsback) have come from (or were predicted by) SciFi ideas. “Computerized Language Translation Software” is hardly Douglas’ invention, any more than talent shows originated with American Idol.

  5. The babel fish was an actual fish.. not computerized language translation

  6. Oh, for cryin’ out loud, read a book! You could have come up with loads better than the flippin’ Kindle and lousy computer translation software that barely functions.
    How about cell phones from Trek?
    Robots courtesy of Asimov (or even Fritz Lang)?
    Smart Home tech from Kuttner and Moore?
    And Jules Verne is spinning in his grave at your omission of a couple of minor items: SPACE TRAVEL and SUBMARINES!
    Ms. Richard, have you ever actually read any SF? Have you actually seen any SF movies?
    Perhaps you should go back to the beginning:
    –Voyage de la Terre à la Lune and Des états de la Lune et du Soleil
    –Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon
    Jules Verne’s 20000 Leagues Under the Sea
    Anything written by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke…
    –Kuttner and Moore’s The Twonky. Remeber to thank them the next time you program you nice new digital oven.
    –Watch Classic Trek episodes. Anything where they used a communicator, a phaser, or Tricorder. Next time you need an MRI or a catscan, thank Dr. McCoy.
    That’s not even scratching the surface. Go hit a library, lady!

  7. But, when can I sit at my computer and say, “Earl Gray… Hot!”
    Of course, if is running Microsoft, it might produce a cup of dishwater…

  8. I’m sure soon enough we’ll have an invisibility cloak like in Harry Potter. But I would have to agree food that appears when you want it would be the best invention. Was that from the Jetsons?

  9. Excellent post! It really is amazing how science fiction has sparked ideas for the invention of so many useful and convenient items.

  10. One Giant Leap: A One Question Interview
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    Physically Incorrect
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  11. Excellent post! Arent the mobile phone and satellite communications also ones to be on this list?

  12. I have always thought it fascinating that science fiction stretches the possibilities of allowing man to invent something that he never knew he neither wanted or needed. Recently on television they were going over the aspects of teleportation – apparently this has already been achieved with a particle some time during the 1990’s.

  13. Already installed the language translator at my one of the blog which comes in existence in few couple of days I have tried out and getting the good results as on day.

  14. I must agree with those who say shallow research. My dear, dig back, give it some depth. In 1869 Edward Everett Hale wrote The Brick Moon, an amazing presage re. modern GPS systems. He suggested near Earth orbit satellites made of brick ( the durable material of the day.) Launched using flywheels (the energy storing and releasing mechanism of the day) these “moons” would be flung so as to follow the curvature of the Earth and stay in orbit. These “moons” would be set in different orbits so sailors could discern their location on Earth by observation of at least three “moons”. The materials were faulty, the method hopeless but the concept was pure brilliance in 1869.

  15. Yeah, there are in fact many, many inventions that we owe to science fiction. You see, that man has gone in the space was also first depicted in science fiction novels… Then man made the space ships and all and finally made the fiction real.
    I feel one day man will also make Time Machine… and that will also be owing to fiction.
    Well, I went sort of off topic… Nice article there 🙂

  16. Interesting, but a little bit short article. There a lot of other things, like robots (which are my favourites), computers, GPS, PDA, and so on – more and more earlier ideas come true nowadays in robotics.

  17. There is ‘At Earths Core’, Edgar Rice Bourroughs (1922); describes an earth boring machine. Used now for making tunnels, the one in the book is about 100 ft. long and jointed so it may turn while boring through the earth. A has a drill at one end that is powered by an engine that generates more power per cubic inch then any previous engine per cubic foot. Learnowits Blog

  18. In 1869 Edward Everett Hale wrote The Brick Moon, an amazing presage re. modern GPS systems. He suggested near Earth orbit satellites made of brick ( the durable material of the day.) Launched using flywheels (the energy storing and releasing mechanism of the day) these “moons” would be flung so as to follow the curvature of the Earth and stay in orbit.

  19. Can’t believe the article didn’t mention cell phones as a fulfillment of the Star Trek communicators. Especially given that our smartphones of the early 21st century far exceed the capabilities of those spartan communicators of the 23rd century. Those crummy communicators didn’t even have any games!

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