1. 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.
2. The internet
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.”
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?
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.
5. Online newspapers
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.’
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.
7. 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.
8. Video chat
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.
9. Credit Cards
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.
10. Scuba Diving
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.
Image credit: NASA