Science fiction writers not only invent entirely new worlds inhabited by fantastic creatures, they also introduce new technologies and inventions — many times, centuries ahead of their time. Although they seemed far-fetched during the authors’ lifetimes, many of the technologies are deeply ingrained in modern daily life — to the point that we take them for granted. Below is a list of inventions predicted by famous writers (name, novel and year of publication, the invention or technology they predicted, and when the prediction became reality).
Douglas Adams (1952-2001), Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), predicted electronic books; became a reality in early 1990s (first e-books and e-book readers introduced, most notably Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad)
Edward Bellamy (1850-1898), Looking Backward (1888), predicted credit cards; became reality in 1950 (Diner’s Club Card)
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), predicted flat screen television; became reality in 1971 (first LCD flat screen televisions introduced)
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), predicted earbud headphones; became reality in 2001 (Apple popularized earbuds with first generation iPods)
Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), predicted the computer tablet; became reality in the 1980s (Pencept Penpad introduced in 1983; Newton introduced by Apple in 1993)
Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), Ubik (1969), predicted artificial organs (“artiforgs”) that could be grafted into a human being to replace the organs that had failed. In 2011, surgeons in Sweden completed the first transplant of a synthetic trachea on a cancer patient.
E. M. Forster (1879-1970): The Machine Stops (1909), predicted the office cubicle; became a reality in late 1960s (Robert Propst, a designer for Herman Miller, introduced the Action Office II in 1967)
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Brave New World (1932), predicted test-tube babies; became reality in 1978 (first test-tube baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born in England)
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932), predicted mood-enhancing drugs; became reality in 1950s (introduction of antidepressants, isoniazid and iproniazid, which were originally developed to treat tuberculosis)
Jules Verne (1828-1905), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), predicted lunar travel; became reality in 1969 (the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and back)
H. G. Wells (1866-1946), When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), predicted automatic doors; became reality in 1954 (automatic doors designed by Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt)
H. G. Wells, The World Set Free (1914), predicted the atomic bomb; became a reality in WWII: the Manhattan Projectcreated the first atomic bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, that were detonated over Japan in 1945.
H. G. Wells, predicted moving walkways in his novel A Story of the Days to Come (1897). Incidentally, Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) also featured moving walkways in his story, The Roads Must Roll (1940). The first walkway was designed for a project in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 1920s. Moving walkways became commonplace by the 1970s.
John Brunner’s (1934-1995) Stand on Zanzibar (1969), stands alone in for its extraordinary and eerie prescience: Brunner describes the future in 2010 — the world is overpopulated; the United States is plagued by terrorist attacks and school shootings, automobiles powered by rechargeable fuel cells, and a culture that encourages short-term, no-strings-attached relationships. And guess the name of Brunner’s fictional American president — President Obomi.
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For further reading: Under the Covers and Between the Sheets by C. Alan Joyce (2009)