L. Ron Hubbard once said that the concept of twisting two pieces of metal together and calling them an egg beater, before any said “egg beater” had been invented, was the definition of science fiction. L. Ron Hubbard was an idiot. All it is is a new method for doing a common task. He was also, as has been noted here before, a racist and a lousy writer. The Church of Scientology, a diseased piece of crap he founded when reality proved too hard, describes Hubbard in glowing terms as a pioneering explorer, world traveler, and nuclear physicist with expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including photography, art, poetry, and philosophy. His critics have characterized him as a liar, a charlatan, and mentally unstable. Though many of his autobiographical statements have been proven to be fictitious, the Church rejects any suggestion that its account of Hubbard’s life is not historical fact. So, as you can see, “idiot” works pretty darn well. That being said, legitimate science fiction writers have taken a look at what may come and have provided us with some startling insights. Thanks to the people at Innovation News, I can share ten of the most prescient with you.
The Atomic Bomb
The H.G. Wells book “The World Set Free” includes numerous descriptions of atom bombs. Not that impressive, until you realize the book came out 30 years before the first atomic bomb test.
Though he had some basic knowledge of atomic physics, Wells realized that they could be used to create an explosive device. Wells’ atomic bombs have no more power than regular explosives, but they continuously explode for days at a time. He even predicted that remaining in an area where an atomic bomb had gone off would create health problems for people, and that the areas could remain uninhabitable for years to come.
Leo Szilard, a researcher for the Manhattan Project even cited specific passages in a letter to Hugo Hirst. Adding “It is remarkable that Wells should have written those pages in 1914. Of course, all this is moonshine, but I have reason to believe that in so far as the industrial applications of the present discoveries in physics are concerned, the forecast of the writers may prove to be more accurate than the forecast of the scientists.”
When not defining American comedy for generations, Mark Twain dabbled the occasional sci-fi story. One of which, “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904”, actually described the internet as we know it today.
Twain’s ‘telectroscope’ was a phone system that connected people the world over. “The improved ‘limitless-distance’ telephone was introduced, and the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.”
The main character of Twain’s story, a condemned murderer is even saved through the use of the telectroscope. Moments before he is to be executed, his friend catches a glimpse of his supposed victim during an event being live streamed from China.
Pretty impressive details considering the story was written in 1898.
According to Jules Verne’s story “From the Earth to the Moon”, the first mission to the moon was launched in December from a base in Florida. The crew consisted of three men who were seated in a large capsule constructed almost entirely from aluminum. After their moonwalk, Verne’s crew lands in the Pacific Ocean and is picked up by a U.S. Navy ship. Sound familiar?
More than 100 years before the real first moonwalk, Verne predicted many of the mission’s details in his novel. The ships even have similar names, Verne’s was the Columbiad and NASA’s was the Columbia.
Finally, one of the most astounding details is that in Jules Verne’s story, when the astronauts reach space, they experience weightlessness. Now that’s a common fact, but in 1865, when Jules Verne wrote the story, he had absolutely no way of knowing that would be the case.
While most people don’t consider Hugo Gernsback’s 1911 novel “Ralph 124C 41+” a particularly good book, they do credit it with predicting an amazing amount of the technology we use today, including remote controlled television, tape recorders and solar power.
One of his most interesting predictions was radar. Gernsback’s novel described 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…from the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately estimated.”
The author even included a fairly accurate drawing of the device as well. It wasn’t until 1934 – 24 years after Ralph’s publication – that the Navy displayed its pulsing radar system.
Editors note: Another science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, actually worked on the first radar scopes in WWII and used them to track Nazi planes and help keep Britain safe.
In 1968, the Internet had yet to make printed media look as antiquated as an abacus, which makes it surprising that Arthur C. Clarke featured online newspapers in his novel “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
In just a paragraph, Clarke was able to perfectly sum up on the online news experience we’re familiar with today. “In a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased … The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.” Oh, and those communications satellites? Clarke invented those, too.
H.G. Wells was quite successful at predicting the war machines of the future in his novels. In addition to the atomic bomb mentioned earlier, Wells also predicted the development of the tank, or as he named them ‘Land Ironclads.’
His short story was published in 1903, and featured a war correspondent’s ruminations on what these new, fearsome machine would mean for war. The land ironclads are 100-foot-long machines with remote controlled guns and accommodation for 42 soldiers, including 7 officers. They are capable of breaching trenches and followed by men on bicycles who hold the gained territory.
While bicycles are not something you see on the battlefield anymore, tanks have been a big component of combat since they made their first appearance in 1916, 13 years after Wells story came out.
Virtual Reality Games
The first video game was invented in 1958, yet Arthur C. Clarke was writing about virtual reality games two years before that.
His novel “The City and the Stars” describes the city of Diaspar. A place that is entirely run by computer, even its residents. The people of Diaspar live for one thousand years, before their essence is absorbed back into the city’s Memory Banks. Many years later they will emerge again, with a fully formed adult body.
The most popular form of entertainment in the city is a virtual reality game. “You were not merely a passive observer … You were an active participant and possessed — or seemed to possess — free will … There was enough flexibility to allow for wide variation. As long as the dream lasted there was no way in which it could be distinguished from reality.”
These days we have Skype and computers that come with built in cameras. AT&T introduced the first ‘picturephone’ at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, but it was Hugo Gernsback who brought the idea to the public’s attention in 1911.
Once again, his novel “Ralph 124C 41+”, Gernsback wrote about technology that we’d be using years later. His Telephot was a wall-mounted screen that connected you to others with the push of a few buttons. In Gernsback’s story, his hero even meets his future girlfriend over the Telephot in case of crossed wires.
When he wrote about the use of credit cards in 1888, Edward Bellamy was pulling ideas out of the air, as shoppers could only buy something on credit if they knew the salesperson. In his novel “Looking Backwards”, Bellamy described credit card transactions that could be taking place today, even down to the duplicate receipts.
The novel is about a man who falls asleep in 1888 to awaken in the year 2000 to a socialist society. In Bellamy’s version of the future, the credit card system is backed by the credit of the American government. Each person is given a certain line of credit on his or her card and the government uses part of the GDP to pay off that credit. Bellamy even described how the credit card could be used the world over, for all types of currency.
In Jules Verne’s day, hanging out underwater for a prolonged period of time involved wearing a large, cumbersome suit, and being tethered to a ship by your air hose, which had to be long enough to reach the surface so you could breath. The diving apparatus he describes in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” sounds a lot more like the scuba diving we’re familiar with today.
Verne’s system was based on Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze design, which stored enough air to divers to move around untethered for 7 to 8 minutes, Verne’s device “consisted of a reservoir of thick iron plates, in which I store the air under a pressure of fifty atmospheres. This reservoir is fixed on the back by means of braces.” This gear also allowed the user to spend between 7 and 8 hours exploring the deep.
As noted above, Clarke also actually invented satellites. He was not the only SF author to make a contribution to society and refuse money for it. Robert Heinlein, before he went absolutely nuts, invented the waterbed. It was originally designed as a treatment for soldiers who were burned in battle.
It worked too by relieving the pressure on the soldier’s skin and allowing him to heal.
And, here’s one that gets overlooked and I think should be noted. Martin Cooper was a Star Trek fan and bona fide nerd. He thought those communicators – BEAM ME UP SCOTTY – were way cool and started playing around with radio waves and stuff and, finally, invented the cell phone.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG (FOX! Sports) every Friday around 9:10 AM.