Art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki
The amazing thing about science fiction is the worlds that it can take us to. These fascinating worlds, usually set in the future, captivate us with their characters, situations, and technology. The writers and creators of these worlds give us a glimpse of a future we can strive for or show us the doomed future we are heading towards. Their amazing views have provided us with what daily life could be like in the future. The future is now for some of those stories. While they may not have gotten the future completely right they have provided inspiration for our growing technologies. Here are twelve technologies that exist in today’s world that were inspired by some of our favorite science fiction works.
Star Trek Communicator – Cell Phones
Where would we be without cell phones? We’ve become a world glued to these devices. We use them to tweet, post, text, and occasionally make a phone call. So where did this amazing device come from? Martin Cooper is the inventor of the handheld mobile cellular device. While working for Motorala in the 1970’s he first conceived the idea of a handheld mobile device. He based inspired for his design after seeing Captain James T Kirk using his communicator on the television show Star Trek.
RoboTaxi - Total Recall
Remember that scene in Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps in a taxi where he has a robotic driver? Seems pretty far fetch but not for the residents of Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates. Since 2010 residents have had access to the personal automated RoboTaxi. These fully electric autonomous taxis give rides to 25,000 people a month. The idea seems to be so popular that in 2013 Google announced that they were getting into the automated driving market. Looks like Uber driver’s days are numbered.
Credit Cards – Looking Backwards
Credit Cards are pretty much a part of everyday life. Whether its debit cards or traditional credit cards they are increasingly taking the place of money in everyday transactions. Who would have predicted we as a society would no longer have use for paper money? Edward Bellamy, that’s who, in his 1888 novel Looking Backwards he predicted the credit card system with amazing accuracy. He even foresaw duplicate receipts and use of credit cards worldwide.
PADDS – Star Trek: The Next Generation
Taking huge leaps in technology is a basic building block in most science fiction. Computing technology has taken huge leaps and bounds in the past 60 years. From room size computers to the smart phones that everyone carries around. Did you know that the smart phone you just can’t live without has more computing power then the computers that were used in the Apollo missions that landed people on the moon? It would only make sense that computers would become smalelr and more personal, such as tablets. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured touch-based tablets called PADDS, short for “personal access display devices.” PADDS were created in the show to improvise for a small budget, but they accurately predicted the path that computers would take.
Digital Books – Return From the Stars
Now that tablets have come from television to our everyday life, what do we use them for? Much like the prediction of paper money becoming nonexistent, this seems like the path for paper books. In 1961 Stanislaw Lem’s novel Return From the Stars talked about a digital novel. The story tells of how books have been turned into “crystals with recorded contents” that are read and navigated using touch-screen technology.
Video Calling - Ralph 124C 41+
With programs like Skype and Facetime, it’s pretty common to communicate with anyone via video call. You just dial someone and boom there’s there face. You can interact with them just like you were in the same room even if you are thousands of miles away. Video calls are a new way to bring people closer together and moving business forward in a face pace world. This technology was featured in Star Trek and Back to the Future part II. The idea first appeared in 1911 in Hugo Gernsback’s novel, Ralph 124C 41+. His fictional invention, the Telephot, was a wall-mounted screen that connected you to others with the push of a few buttons.
Headphones - Fahrenheit 451
If you want to sink into your own personal world and not be distracted you simply put on a pair of headphones. It’s as simple as that and you can just drown out the outside world. It’s pretty common to walk to down the street, pop into a coffee shop and see someone using headphones. Listening to music, watching a movie, keeping up with news, really doing whatever they want without bothering the people around them. In Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451, he described small, in-ear radios: "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."
Taser – Tom Swift
Even real life inventors need inspiration from fictional inventors. Tom Swift, a genius inventor, was the central character in a series of juvenile science fiction books in the early 1900s. The book Tom Sift and His Electric Rifle was inspiration to NASA physicist Jack Cover. Cover invented the Taser, citing inspiration from the book. Taser is an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. The Tom Swift books have carried on through various writers and have even been published as late 2008. The character of Tom Swift has been an inspiration to many innovators including Steve Wozniak.
3D Printers – Star Trek Replicators
Feeling hungry? Wish you could just press a button on a machine and food would appear? In the Star Trek universe it’s totally possible thanks to Replicators. Although originally its uses were limited as a "food synthesizer" it made advancements to replicate just about any inanimate objects; including food, medicaments, or even spare parts. While we don’t yet have technology to have such items appear out of the air, 3D printing is getting us closer to that point. 3D printing is now at a point where it can create objects out of plastic, glass, and metal. These machines can also print completely eatable foods, living cells, and even other 3D printers. Great a self-replicating machine, I’m sure this is the start of Skynet.
Roomba – The Jetsons
Imagine the life of a housewife, all your social engagements, the cocktails, the shopping, picking up the kids from school. Where do you find the time to vacuum your house? There should be a robot that does that by now, right? Of course there is, it’s called the Roomba. The Roomba is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner. With the push of a button it cleans your floors for you. This thing has been around for over ten years and now even charges itself when the battery gets low.
Universal Translators – First Contact
I know what you’re thinking Star Trek used universal translators before the movie First Contact. I’m actually referring to the 1945 novella written by Murray Leinster. Leinster was one of the first to write about a universal translator. Of course it was used in Star Trek; you couldn’t traverse the universe without one. The technology for a universal translator has existed for some time now. There are apps for your phone where you can speak something in your language and it would translate it into a language of your choice. In 2014 Microsoft announced the Skype Translator which could translate in real time.
Scanadu Scout – Star Trek Medical Tricorder
Going to the doctor sucks sometimes. You sit and wait to be seen; once you are taken back they check your temperature, your blood pressure, your weight. It’s an endless amount of test just to see a doctor. God forbid there’s something seriously wrong with you get CT scans, blood drawn, x-rays, etc. It almost makes you not want to go see a doctor when you get sick. There should be an easier way to get all the information they need. The Scanadu Scout does that, giving all your important vitals as quickly as touching it your temple.
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