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Science Fiction into Science Fact? 892

Posted by Cliff
from the our-imaginations-turned-into-reality dept.
Selanit asks: "I'm a student of English literature at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, with a pronounced interest in all things tech as well. Next term I'll be taking an Independent Study course which combines the two -- the topic will be 'Influences of Science Fiction on Real-World Tech.' The professor and I are still trying to assemble a reading list. So here's my question: what science-fiction novels have had a particularly noticeable effect on the development of technology? I'm mainly interested in books that have been written since World War II. The line of inquiry is not limited to computers; any kind of link between sci-fi and hard tech will do (e.g. Cap'n Kirk's communicator == prototype mobile phone). Books that have lent a name to a technology are also interesting (like the 'Little-Endian, Big-Endian' terms which were lifted from Gulliver's Travels, or 'Babel Fish' from Douglas Adams)."
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Science Fiction into Science Fact?

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  • ACC (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Debillitatus (532722)
    I've heard it said that Arthur C. Clarke had the idea for geosynchronous satellites, and wrote about them in a few of his novels.
    • Arthur C. Clarke had the idea for geosynchronous satellites

      If I understand correctly, his description was so good that he actually has a patent on the darn things.

    • by Yurian (164643)
      I think the (possible myth?) is that his original description in his story was so good that years later when someone else came to try and patent satellites, they found they couldn't because of the story was such an accurate description that it was considered a sort of "prior art" on par with a scientific paper.I'm not entirely sure to what extent this is really true.

      Considering what's happened to the patent office since then, though, I could probably waltz down to the patent office tomorrow, and they'd have no trouble handing me a patent on staellites. Or large orbiting mind control lasers for that matter.
    • by CaseyB (1105)
      He did have the idea, but he didn't introduce the concept in a novel. It was in a British technical journal called Wireless World [sciencemuseum.org.uk].

      Clarke is a scientist with many credientials completely separate from his fiction writing.

  • by imrdkl (302224) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:33PM (#2614440) Homepage Journal
    From (old) Star Trek and (by reference) Dune equates easily to my cube at work.
  • Snow Crash (Score:2, Insightful)

    I've read (I believe here on /.) that many Silicon Valley companies gave that to employees and said "this is what we're aiming for", especially referring to his vision of the Metaverse. This was before the bubble popped, of course .
    • He's also the first one to use the term "avatar" in that context.
    • "Metaverse" was an idea that was around before snow crash. Although he may have coined the term metaverse. Doubtfull though.
    • by tylerh (137246) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:01PM (#2615152)
      The first commerically successful "cyberspace" novel was "Neuromancer," by William Gibson. There are two worlds in Neuromancer: the corporeal world, run by corporations, and the cyberworld, which one "Jacks in" to via a computer hookup. IN cyberspace, data passes freely, but a lot work goes into protecting data from hackers. The protagonist is a hacker how specializes in stealing data. Sound familiar?

      Gibson was so spot on that several commercial products use names from the book, eg BlackICE.

      If you can find it, there is this great interview with William Gibson in which he discussed watching two kids playing pong (the original commercial video game, back in the 70s). Gibson realized that, for the players, the world behind the screen was just a real as a tennis court is to a tennis player. So Gibson pursued this "world behind the screen" metaphor and produced a striking, immersive world based an ubiquitous computers communicated via a world-wide standard network. This vision drove a lot of researchers, and still does. Many of us crave the fully, head mounted, immersive 3-D displays used in the book. But I'll take a pass on the Texas Catheter.
      • > Gibson realized that, for the [Pong]
        > players, the world behind the screen
        > was just a real as a tennis court is to
        > a tennis player. So Gibson pursued this
        > "world behind the screen" metaphor
        > and produced a striking, immersive
        > world based an ubiquitous computers
        > communicated via a world-wide standard
        > network.

        And published it about 10 years after
        Ted Nelson described the idea (which
        he called Fantic Space, by analogy
        with the filmic space that cinema
        theorists talk about) in his book Dream
        Machines/Computer Lib.
  • Jargon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UCRowerG (523510) <UCRowerG.yahoo@com> on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:33PM (#2614446) Homepage Journal
    The Jargon File might be a good place to start:

    http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/index.html [tuxedo.org]

  • by typical geek (261980) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:34PM (#2614453) Homepage
    remote control arms used to work with nuclear and hazardous material. I think it's in a short story though.
    • It's in a story called "Waldo", and the book as it sits on shelves will most likely be "Waldo & Magic, Inc.".
    • He *invented* waldoes. They are called that after Waldo, the main character in the story and the title of the story as well. Not exactly a prediction. And before anyone else says it, the same goes for waterbeds. Invented, not predicted (in Stranger). Also the "generation ship".

      However, I think it would be fair to say RAH predicted the Internet (he wasn't the only one and maybe not even the first, but so what). Check out the "public terminals" that have access to everything from lectures on science to live orchestral performances. These are throughout the "Future History" books, but especially so in Friday. It is interesting to note that revenue method Heinlein envisioned for this as well.

      Of course he may have predicted several things that have yet to come to pass. For instance, in Harsh Mistress he mentions (actually the plot hinges on this) warfare between the Moon and Earth as well as induction ring launches from both locations.
      • Lois Bujold has said in public that Science Fiction is a reflection of the society that exists when the work is created, not a prediction of the future, and I believe her. It is, in my opinion, a fool's errand to talk about how one writer or another predicted something. Most of the time, an SF writer simply takes a currently existing invention and plays games with it. The other times, the writer talks about something he or she earnestly wants, but hasn't seen yet. Heinlein's waterbed is one of those sorts of things.

        For example, by the time Friday was released, in 1984, as I recall, publically available computer terminals were in existence, BBSes were how you got on-line (except for the fortunate few how knew about and had access to Usenet) and networked BBSes were about to be invented.

        My own personal favorite example of an SF prediction is in Bellamy's Looking Backward which, among other things, talked about how the broadcasting of music (live performances over telephone lines as neither audio recording nor radio had been invented or conceived of when the book was written) had become common. I also seem to recall that it had some bit in there about how that led to fewer people being able to play the piano, but that may be my subsequent experiences leaking over as it's been 20+ years since I read that book.

        However, it seems to me that the question is not about predictions in SF that come true, but about how SF has driven invention. If, as I say I believe above, SF is a reflection of the culture it's written in, then there can be no direct link. However, I also believe that invention is also a product of the culture it is in, so it is certainly fair to say that, if a work doesn't have a direct effect on invention, then it will necessarily reflect the environment in which the invention is made. Rarely is this made more clear than in "The Man Who Sold the Moon" where Delos D. Harriman talks about what it was like to grow up in the early part of the 20th century.

        Further, if one wishes to look at that aspect more closes, I think that one could do worse than looking at the work of Dr. Lienhard of the University of Houston (not his son, who is a professor at MIT) who has a 5-minute daily radio program (and book derived therein) called "The Engines of our Ingenuity" which discusses the whole process of invention and covers quite well the methods by which people derive inspiration. The URL to reach the radio show's transcripts is http://www.uh.edu/engines [uh.edu]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Read some of the early Heinlein. He invents a lot of stuff, well before it's time. The waterbed, I believe was just one of the things in a long line... :-)
  • by LittleGuy (267282) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:35PM (#2614456)
    Jules Verne, from "20,000 Leagues" to "From the Earth to the Moon".
  • "The Forever War" by Joseph Haldeman has an interesting bit on cloning.

    ---Spoiler---

    Towards the end, which is several thousand years in the future, almost everyone is a clone, and it tells a bit about how this affects the world.

    He also really plays with the einstein-rosen bridge (worm hole) quite a bit.

    Its not a ton of stuff, but its a -great- read regardless ;-)

    Also, although its been probably written 20 times by the time I write this, Asimov is often credited with inventing the term "robot".
    • Also, although its been probably written 20 times by the time I write this, Asimov is often credited with inventing the term "robot".

      If so, he is credited incorrectly. For the term "robot," try Lem instead. Asimov is known for "the three laws of robotics" which, IIRC, were actually devised by Campbell

      -- MarkusQ

    • by mahlen (6997) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:44PM (#2614564) Homepage
      From dictionary.com:

      Word History: Robot is a word that is both a coinage by an individual person and a borrowing. It has been in English since 1923 when the Czech writer Karel Capek's play R.U.R. was translated into English and presented in London and New York. R.U.R., published in 1921, is an abbreviation of Rossum's
      Universal Robots; robot itself comes from Czech robota, "servitude, forced labor," from rab, "slave." The Slavic root behind robota is orb-,
      from the Indo-European root *orbh-, referring to separation from one's group or passing out of one sphere of ownership into another. This seems to be the sense that binds together its somewhat
      diverse group of derivatives, which includes Greek orphanos, "orphan," Latin orbus, "orphaned," and German Erbe, "inheritance," in addition to the
      Slavic word for slave mentioned above. Czech robota is also similar to another German derivative of this root, namely Arbeit, "work" (its Middle High German form arabeit
      is even more like the Czech word).
      Arbeit may be descended from a word that meant "slave labor," and later generalized to just "labor."

      mahlen

      If I want your opinion, I'll ask you to fill out the necessary form.
    • Karel Capek (sorry, can't do weird diacritical marks here) invented the term robot, from the Czech word for 'worker'.
    • IIRC, "Robot" is Czech for "Worker". The first work to use "robot" in the mechanical man context was "RUR"
  • by v3rb (239648) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:35PM (#2614462) Homepage
    Jules Verne wrote about nuclear submarines a long time before their invention. Even though this is not your typical "science fiction" book it did have an influence on people.
  • Asimov (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FireCar (522036)
    I know that this is the obvious thing to say, but hell, Isaac Asimov would be a great start in reading on things. His stories not only deal with technology, but how technology can get the better of us. As in the story where everyone depends on calculators and doing math by hand is revolutionary (sorry if I forgot the name). He not only shows us where we can go, but also where not to go.
    • Re:Asimov (Score:2, Informative)

      by deepsky (11076)
      In Asimov's Second Foundation (1953) there is the "Transcriber". Now known as "voice recognition"!
  • 1984 (Score:3, Redundant)

    by Snar Bloot (324250) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:35PM (#2614466)
    Seriously. 1984.
  • Heinlein was writing stories about going to the moon way before we actually did it. And as far as realism goes, he was pretty close to the mark (as opposed to say, Jules Verne, who also wrote about going to the moon, but wasn't quite as informed).
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, rockets to the moon,... Jules Verne has to be the most visionary science fiction writer I can think of in recent history. Assimov and friends will take his place soon, but I don't think our tech has advanced far enough yet for that.
  • Although some things stated by Asimov are quite out of this world, we _are_ having a lot of robotics going on around us, in some form of automation or the other.

    Sony's Aibo, cars & washing machines with computers built into them, automated support systems, expert systems (before someone yells that these things are not widely used in the industry, I'd like to let them know that I'm in the support industry working on automated-support query solving agents). And what about bots which crawl the web and gather data.

    We could go on and on, the basic fact is that although things like Daneel (or for that matter Marvin ;-) are not yet here, robotics and AI is a fast advancing field. Sure, no fancy AI taking over the world tomorrow, but the technology is so subtle that we do not notice it, or even if we do, not pay much attention to it.
  • by wrinkledshirt (228541) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:36PM (#2614473) Homepage
    I think Sci-Fi has had less to do with bringing about certain technologies (still waiting on my ansible) than it has on coining terms that have been applied to technologies.

    For instance, look at Neuromancer. It gave us the term "Cyberspace", which was cool, but then tried to convince us of a guy running around trying to fence one-megabyte ram sticks. Talk about dystopian...
  • by cjpez (148000) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:36PM (#2614477) Homepage Journal
    How could you miss it? You know, the Spice Melange that keeps us alive and healthy well beyond when we should have died? Prescience? Any of this ringing a bell?

    ...

    Oh, right, that didn't actually happen, did it?

  • Its obvious (Score:2, Funny)

    by blues-l (126155)
    Plan 9
  • Two (Score:2, Informative)

    by Byteme (6617)
    I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

    Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond.

  • Jules Verne (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Erasei (315737)
    I would have to say that the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne was my first real experience with science fiction. The book is set in 1866, I have no idea when it was written. I could probably find out on google, but I am lazy. Anyway, it was written before there were submarines around. Plus, it was a great book.
  • by x mani x (21412) <.ac.lligcm.sc. .ta. .esahgm.> on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:37PM (#2614492) Homepage
    Star Trek : The Next Generation Technical Manual [amazon.com]

    While this book may be the inverse (or reverse?) of what you're looking for, it is extremely interesting, and will surely help you a lot from a research standpoint for your project. It is basically a detailed description of every technical aspect of the ST:TNG universe, which includes many convergences between science fact and science fiction.

    Also don't forget to note the name of the first space shuttle ever: The Enterprise [nasa.gov].
  • I'm sure /. will be inundated by people making this connection, but Arthur C. Clarke came up with the idea for communications satellites in geostationary orbits in 1945 (about 25 years before their actual use). However, his idea wasn't outlined in a novel, but in his paper, "Extra-terrestrial Relays [lsi.usp.br]. Which is still an interesting read, almost 57 years after its publishing.
  • Arthur C Clarke (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abde (136025) <apoonawa-blog@NOSPAM.yahoo.com> on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:38PM (#2614502) Homepage

    He predicted the Y2K problem (Ghost from the Grand Banks), and communications satellites (The Fountains of Paradise), and also invented the concept of the space elevator. He didnt invent the AI, but he certainly popularized the concept in film and text (2001 A Space Odyssey). Not to mention a realistic look at the role large corporations would play in space travel (Pan Am flights to the Space Station). I've never read The Deep Range, but it is supposed to be quite visionary as well regarding undersea exploration.
  • Unless you actually talk to the inventors of these devices, you'll never know whether they were influenced by science fiction. I think you're making a big leap, here:
    • Work of science fiction describing some future technology is released
    • Some years later, a device similar to the aforementioned technology is released
    • You're assuming the latter stems from the former
    Who's to say that the "inventor" of the cell phone got the idea from watching Star Trek? Maybe he got the idea from Dick Tracy? Or maybe it's just a natrual evolution of the technology? <SARCASM> Gee, a portable, wireless telephone - what a crazy idea! Thank god for Gene Rodenberry, or we'd never have anything like that! </SARCASM>
  • Ender's game details a future earth with a worldwide "internet" which allows people (in this case children) to communicate and express their ideas anonymously and let the quality of their ideas, not their age, determine their acceptance.
  • Earth, by David Brin (Score:2, Informative)

    by Nick Arnett (39349)
    A venture capitalist suggested that I read Brin's "Earth" years ago. Since then, I've re-read it twice, getting more out of it each time. A lot of the ideas he covered as non-fiction in "The Transparent Society" were present in "Earth." Of course, it's hard to measure how much Brin [davidbrin.com] influenced the world with his vision of the effects of networking, v. how much he simply foresaw many of its effects. I know it influenced me considerably and I passed on many of the ideas in my talks at many of the early Web-related conferences.
  • This short story by Jorge Luis Borges, which I read as a youngster many years back, always seemed prescient to me when it comes to Mapquest and other GIS'es:


    ...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography. From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda. The piece was written by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. English translation quoted from J. L. Borges, A Universal History of Infamy, Penguin Books, London, 1975.

  • Did the flip out phone come directly from ST or did they just have the same obstical to overcome and the results are just similar?
    Science fiction sparks the imagination with ideas, and certianly alows people in science to say "WOW, thats a good idea, lets see if its possible".
    Science fiction went to the moon first that does not mean someone watched the movies and said, "Hey, lets go to the moon".
    I can think of a few things that did come from Sci-Fi, and links to them, but I refuse to do your work for you.
  • You ask for novels, yet your example is taken from a TV series. So, which do you prefer? And which medium do you believe is more influental?

    Secondly, I believe that your choice of Star Trek's communicator isn't actually a good example.

    I wasn't born then, but I guess that Walkie Talkies and CB radio or their equivalent existed back then, so it doesn't require much effort to imagine a much smaller version of such a device.

    It'd be much more interesting to find out about devices or procedures that can be traced back to SciFi that were not just foreshadowing advanced versions of an existing technology.

    (I'll answer your question about SciFi devices in real life in another post, since I want to look for some sources to back up these claims... :-)

    Btw, being a SF-nut, one interesting thing I noticed about SciFi movies: You can always tell their production era by looking at hairstyles and makeup. Hardly any SF movie has the guts to do something completely out-of-fashion when it comes to the looks of actresses and actors.
  • by scotpurl (28825) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:42PM (#2614540)
    Scientists and inventors do not scour literature looking for devices and ideas to turn from fantasy into reality, which means that Sci-Fi has had zero effect upon what gadgets get invented.

    More simply, engineers don't sit around waiting for writers to come up with the ideas.

    A better thesis would be, "What ideas have been foretold by science fiction writers years before technology made it possible?"

    Or, "Since writers tend to take the social aspects of technology under consideration more often than engineers, what novels and authors have correctly identified social and techonological necessities long before engineers invented the device that created the situation?"
    • Yes, they do (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tony (765) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:06PM (#2614761) Journal
      How many scientists, engineers, and researchers were influenced by the books they read as kids? Asimov himself was one, though he ended up doing little research.

      How much were the scientists who shot the moon influenced by Verne, Welles, and E. E. Doc Smith? If many of them were inspired by these authors' works, then the novels indeed had an impact and influence on technology.

      Many authors directly and indirectly influenced our technosphere. Clarke calculated geosynchronous orbit; most satellites orbit in the belt named after him. Larry Niven's warnings about the effects of organ transplants has changed the way people approach the ethics of taking organs from executed criminals. (Incidently, the "Slashdot effect" is really nothing more than a virtual flash crowd, which Niven predicted as a result of easy teleportation.)

      The early works about robots and sentient computers have influenced the direction of research in these fields. AI researchers talk earnestly about the three laws of robotics.

      Terraforming was an idea first proposed in science fiction. The US First Contact Protocol is based on science fiction scenerios.

      SF influences science and research because scientists tend to read science fiction. If that doesn't color our ideas of the world (which in turn influences our research), then our imagination has died.
    • by Hanno (11981) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:09PM (#2614788) Homepage
      A snippet from a BBC News article [bbc.co.uk], May 11 2000:

      Science fiction powers space research

      The European Space Agency (Esa) is studying science fiction for ideas and technologies that could be used in future missions.

      A panel of readers is currently combing sci-fi novels and short stories published in the early decades of the last century to see if technology has caught up with ideas that were futuristic when first put into print.

      Any good ideas turned up in the search will be assessed by scientists to see if they can help the agency in its ongoing mission to explore space.

      Knowledgeable fans of science fiction are also being encouraged to send in suggestions to help Esa spot sources of good ideas.

      (Follow link above for rest of article, interesting.)
      • Nice Post (Score:4, Insightful)

        by scotpurl (28825) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:34PM (#2614981)
        But, I'll stick (stubbornly) by my original comments. The author thinks of what technology can do, and the engineer thinks of what to do with technology. A bit circular, and I'm feeling chatty....

        The author throws the rules out the window, and does some What-If-ing.

        The engineer, trained and bound by rules, but reporting to the demands of the Manager (who has read too much SciFi, and thus believes nothing is impossible), tries to find what technology can perform the task.

        More simply, the author goes from task backward to technology, and the engineer goes from technology forward to task. In your post, they have the techology, and want to know what else to do with it. They are not trying to make SciFi come true. (am I nitpicking, here?)

        I do think we need more dreamer-engineers, but the cirriculum and managers tend to conspire and weed them out.
  • Heinlein, especially in his early years, is full of technology that is commonplace today that was pie-in-the-sky when he wrote it. He just didn't always call it by the same names we do today.

    I'd have to go digging for specific technologies in specific titles, but it's all good-to-great reading anyway.

    Expect to find mobile phones, faxes, video phones, voice dictation, computers of various intelligences, maglev, flywheels for energy storage (we use 'em as a UPS in datacenters; he used 'em in spaceships), sophisticated chemical synthesis (Venusians making real maple syrup from a sample), all sorts of rocketry and space tech, and lots more.

    Also good is Niven, though more of his things (such as matter transporters and indestructible ship hulls) are still in the distant future. Zahn likes to take some form of technology, such as $6M-Man-like soldiers (Cobra et al.) and see what it might do to people and society--you get a chapter or two of a space western and the rest of the book of social analysis and commentary.

    Sounds like a fun project, if for no other reason than the reading list!

    b&

  • Dreams... (Score:2, Informative)

    by depth_13 (454306)
    Although it will probably be brought up again, Peter Disch wrote a pretty decent book that was reviewed here on Slashdot a while ago called "The Dreams our Stuff is Made Of" that examines the impact that science fiction has had on both our technology and society at large.
  • by cybrpnk (94636) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:46PM (#2614584)
    After he wrote Snow Crash, the ultimate cyberpunk novel, Neil Stephenson wrote The Diamond Age. Its key plot device was a book with leaves of paper that were computer controlled and displayed whatever the person wanted to read at the moment. Thus a single volume was the equivalent of the entire internet or library of congress or whatever. This differed from using a laptop computer because his society was "neo-Victorian" and everybody wanted to be seen with books, not computers, as a kind of status thing. The funny thing is that Electric Ink [eink.com] is on the verge of making this a reality and has already got posters up in department stores...
  • From what I recall, many of the old authors from the golden age of science fiction semi-deliberately made it their job to promote space travel, etc so that people would get away from trying to blow each other up on planet Earth, and would get into space exploration as a new thing to do. A sort of informal agenda for the future of the planet.

    We seem to be missing this kind of vision these days, cynicism being much more fashionable.

  • by remande (31154) <remande AT bigfoot DOT com> on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:48PM (#2614602) Homepage
    Besides communicators, the original Star Trek had some other influences on technology.


    I've been told from a retired Navy man that control rooms on latter-day vessels are based on the Enterprise model, which didn't exist until the show did. Previously, key combat stations (such as the helm and tactical) were not in the same room as the skipper. Note: I have not been able to confirm or deny this story; anybody else want to?


    In the original series, whenever one character handed another character computer data, the prop they used was a brightly colored square wafer. IMHO, it looked 3.5" on a side--The microfloppy.


    Again, unconfirmed: did the taser descend from the "stun" setting on the phaser? Trek showed just how useful it was to have a less-lethal weapon.


    The military uses needle-less pneumatic hypodermic injectors to do mass injections--perhaps lining up a regiment to all get a Tetanus booster or something. How is this related to McCoy's spray hypo? I'm not sure.


    Finally, a case of ST influencing technobabble rather than technology itself. Under the Unix operating system, the graphics package (X11) easily allows for one computer to run a program, but for its windows to appear on another machine's display. This is often referred to as "Beaming the app over", based on terminology for the transporter.

  • SF has a long history of interacting with science (and not just physics!). Off the top of my head, here's a selection:
    • First the obvious: "Cyberspace" was first made popular in William Gibson's Neuromancer, the first of the cyberpunk novels.
    • Biotechnology, and the possibility of reviving extinct species with trans-species surrogate mothers or eggs is almost a commonplace concept now, but when Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton's book, not the movie) came out, it was path-breaking.
    • Books to watch in future are Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age for nanotech and "replicators," and Snow Crash, for the future evolution of virtual worlds as well as pizza delivery... :-)
    • The obscure: the concept of vacuum energy was actually propounded in a Physical Review Letters article by Robert L. Forward before Asimov borrowed it to power his spaceships (the starship "Forward") - I forget the book, but it might have been Friday.
    • And the obvious once again: geosynchronous sattelites were predicted (but not patented) by Arthur Clarke - that's why they are called Clarke orbits. And watch for the Beanstalk to be built some day, on Mars if not Earth.
    • Speaking of Mars: Robert Zubrin's book, The Case for Mars, pitches a serious plan for the manned exploration of Mars that has at least forced some re-thinking at NASA. The ideas were borrowed, reworked and expanded somewhat in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars: look for a future manned Mars mission to use many of those ideas.
    • Of course, the Three Laws of Robotics have influenced AI researchers, if not AI research...
    That's a smattering - I'm sure there are many many more that others will list.

  • by ScottBrady (60469) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:49PM (#2614617)


    Don't forget 1984 by Orwell for the depiction of an un-blinking eye of surveillance controlled by the government.

    ::cough:: carnivore, echelon, face recognition ::cough::

  • Orson Scott Card (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gorppet (307960)
    Ender's Game:

    • Adaptive games
    • online discussion forums
    • instant messaging (the smart desks)


    I'd include email, but that was already invented (although I doubt he knew about it)
  • I am showing how Dr. Strangelove by Kubrik broke the mold on thermonuclear war genre films. It was the first mainstream movie to cast a negative light (in a funny way of course) on the government policies and policy makers.

    Check out Variety for listings of reviews for related movies.

    There is also a reference book that I found in the Pop-Culture library: Film by Genre, Daniel Lopez, 1993 There are plenty of references to Sci-Fi, etc there.

    Enjoy.
  • The Diamond Age has a bunch of very interesting technology - especially in the realm of nanotechnology and virtual presence/reality.

    Then there is Snow Crash, with its metaverse, of course, and all of the associated online virtual reality as well.

    Only one other thing I could think of as relating to real world but not by Neal Stephenson is Orson Scott Card's Ender's game series' ansible technology, which seems to be similar to some kind of quantum entanglement based (the closest thing I think it resembles) instantaneous communication over long distances (measured in light years).
  • You would also likely need to check out the pulp fiction era from the 30s and 40s - especially editors like John W. Campbell, who discovered authors like Asimov. They provided a market for people who talented in an age when work was hard to find (the late depression)
  • by Hanno (11981) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:03PM (#2614735) Homepage
    To all these claims: These are things I heard someplace. I did not research any of these, so don't take these as fact.

    It is claimed that the 1929 movie "Woman in the Moon" invented the launch count-down [filmsite.org].

    Star Trek PADD and today's PDAs [unc.edu]. (I believe that the Newton actually has been designed with the show's device in mind.

    IIRC, pressurized, needle-free vaccination devices have been designed after watching McCoy doing medical treatment on Trek. After a short web search, one of them appears to be the Gene Gun described here [hbcollege.com].
  • Farenheit 451 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShieldWolf (20476) <jeffrankineNO@SPAMnetscape.net> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:11PM (#2614807)
    Predited many of todays technologies including the walkman, and real-time media. The book is particularly interesting because it correctly predicts the effects these technolgies would have on society. e.g. example walkmans have increased our social isolation.

    -ShieldWolf
    • Re:Farenheit 451 (Score:3, Insightful)

      by karb (66692)

      e.g. example walkmans have increased our social isolation.

      You could say that. You could also say that it finally provided an alternate avenue for those of us who had always preferred listening to music to always talking to people.

      I think casual social interaction is overrated. All the extroverts decided it was important and nobody spoke up to disagree. I am personally satisfied with a few friends and the spiral of downward moderation I receive on /.

  • by interstellar_donkey (200782) <pathighgate@@@hotmail...com> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:12PM (#2614819) Homepage Journal
    If you're looking for good science fiction reading, check out the product literature that accompanied the launch of Microsoft's Windows 95. In it, there were descriptions of a MS computer operating system that was reliable, fast, and easy.

    These bold and exotic claims were so influential, consumers actually started to want a reliable and fast OS from the company, and today, 5 years later, they are starting to produce such an operating system. It still amazes me how fiction can someday turn into fact.
  • by Relic of the Future (118669) <dales@@@digitalfreaks...org> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:15PM (#2614841)
    Neuromancer had the first use many now-cutting edge techs. Reading it now, it sounds _so_ incredibly cliched... until you remember that they weren't cliches until after this book was written.
  • Scientology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by coyote-san (38515) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:18PM (#2614871)
    If you don't mind a bit of controversy, to put it mildly, you should include dianetics/Scientology.

    Were Lafayette Ron Howard and Analog's Editor (Joseph?) Campbell pulling everyone's legs with a fake science and fake religion? Was it just a tax scam? Or was it a legitimate effort that went horribly wrong?

    This isn't just an idle question - Scientologists have shut down web sites, even seized computer hardware and essentially destroyed it while the Federal courts did nothing, because they published religious "trade secrets" about the evil god Unix. I mean Xinu. I mean Xenu. (Hmm, makes you think....) They have flooded newsgroups with bogus posts to make it hard to find the on-topic posts. They have bought the top 40-odd places on search engines that provide "sponsored links," to make it hard for the casual browser to find critical sites. They have created "safe harbor" web browsers that protect their members from "objectionable" material.

    You don't have to agree with my opinion of Scientologists to see how they're linked to many of the most controversial issues facing us on the 'net. And it all started with a science fiction writer and a magazine editor discussing psychology based on "science," not Freud.
    • Re:Scientology (Score:3, Informative)

      by nate1138 (325593)
      Actually, I think you mean L. Ron Hubbard, not Howard, but it's close enough. For more information, check www.xenu.net (operation clambake).
  • Enterprise Holodeck! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp@@@freeshell...org> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:22PM (#2614896) Homepage Journal
    The holodeck color scheme used on the "Enterprise" (black with yellow lines) is used by Nasa as the background for vector mapping when information is not known or to convey the axes. The engineers specifically requested it.

    Its a small, but notable influence.
  • Asimov, Verne (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rice_burners_suck (243660) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:30PM (#2614952)
    OH WELL

    I would say that Isaac Asimov's "robot" series of books probably had the biggest effect on both fiction AND science. Although the robots in existance today are nothing like the robots in his novels, the inspiration and the name "robot" came from him. Asimov's robots were a lot like Star Trek's character Data. They looked human, had positronic brains (dreamed up by Asimov, of course), and could think and act on their own. Most of our robots today are nothing like that. They are controlled by computers, which are programmed by humans. Robots are designed for specific purposes and carry out only that purpose. For example, a six axis robotic arm might be installed in an automotive assembly line and programmed to perform the same exact action thousands, tens of thousands (or even vastly more) times. The idea, however, stems from Asimov's dream of machines that could perform actions for humans.

    Another great writer, Jules Verne, wrote science fiction novels that eventually became science fact. From the submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, to the rocket in From the Earth to the Moon, to the trip Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne came up with some truly incredible ideas that soon became very credible indeed.

    There are many others. I'm too busy to list them all, or I'd take the same kind of course. OH WELL

    • Re:Asimov, Verne (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nhavar (115351) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:48PM (#2615492) Homepage

      The term robot actually comes from a 1920's play by Karel Capek called "RUR, Rossum's Universal Robots" and is a derivitive of the Slavic word for "work". Therefore Asimov simply popularized the term. Asimov would have been about 3 when the phrase Robot was first used and 7 I believe when 'Metropolis' came to the screen. So these may have had more of an influence on his writing than anything else.

      People keep brining up Jules Verne and the Nautilus but debunking the 'nuclear' aspect because the engine burned salt. What people fail to mention is the process it used to 'burn' the salt could it have been a nuclear reaction. Additionally noone mentions that the ship gets the salt from the surrounding water through either some desalinization process (too long) or a shorter electrochemical process like a catalytic converter. Parrallels to these processes would be the ramjet/scramjet that collects it's fuel from the surrounding atmosphere and current fuel cell and hybrid engines that are designed to convert simple water into base elements for consumption.

      There also has been no mention of the "fulgurator" which holds more than a passing resemblance to a nuclear missile/atom bomb.



      "Water is the coal of the future. The energy of tomorrow is water broken down into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. These elements will secure the earth's power supply for an indefinite period."
      Jules Verne -- 1874



      Please anyone correct me if I'm wrong on any of these points

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:52PM (#2615099) Homepage
    George Lucas's first film, "THX-1138", introduced the concept of phone tech support based on obnoxious recorded messages. That was a very insightful film. Lucas later abandoned insight for popularity and became successful.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:14PM (#2615226) Journal
    Gene having been in the military (Navy I believe) drew alot from his
    knowledge of it as well as making many contacts for obtaining more and
    ongoing information.

    It is more likely that Roddenberry (sp?) created fiction based upon fact
    and genuine science theory than the other way around. Though at some point
    there is bound to be the creative license use.

    One such example of technology existing prior to use in the show is what
    many would recognize as the newer type of communicators, the combadges.
    As it turns out, the technology these combadges are based on has existed
    since before the original Star Trek show. That technology is what you can
    do a google search on "neurophone".

    And having been one who got a chance to play around with a prototype, I
    can say that it does in fact work and what you read about it being better
    for the high end of the hearing range is correct.

    But this doesn't much support the imagination to reality direction, for
    Roddenberry wanted to make his show as realistice in information as he
    could and often would bug NASA for technical info (and they were glad to
    help because in turn the show helped gain public interest in the space
    program) while incorporating current social issues into the plot of each
    show.

    However, there were a few shows that Roddenberry did in fact write the
    plot around the concepts of moving imagination into reality. In fact "Q"
    was such a character capable of such power.

    The reality is that there is a truth to it. In the process of creating
    anything, we must first be able to imagine it. Take the general picture
    and begin filling in the details. Really not so unlike the process of
    creating software.

    There is even an identified formula for it:

    T1 (I + E) = v T2 (k)

    T1 = non-mystical thought, T2 = things in physical reality,
    k = the active constant, I = degree of Intent, E = degree of Effort,
    v = velocity of conversion

    A formula that like any math equation, makes two statements.
    Here it is: All things in physical reality can be comprehended and
    all things that can be comprehended in non-mystical thought can be
    created.

    But it really does all begin with imagination and the application of consciousness [mindspring.com] (see concepts)

    .
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:39PM (#2615426)
    ...Selanit asks:

    So here's my question: what science-fiction novels have had a particularly noticeable effect on the development of technology?

    Some folks here have actually attempted to answer the original question, like the guy who suggested the Navy adopted the use of key tactical stations in the same vein as the Enterprise. Others, however, seem to confuse the mere mention of some "futuristic" concept as "having an effect" on the realization of the concept.


    I've read Verne, and I find it hard to believe his ideas (futuristic as they were) had any influence on modern nuclear technology. I think Selanit has taken on a formidable task: How does one prove a cause-effect relationship between sci-fi and reality? I've seen little evidence here I would consider "proof" in this regard.


    Maybe Selanit would be so kind as to publish a link of his/her work on /. ... I'm sure that would be an interesting, and original, article.

  • by Selanit (192811) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:54PM (#2615539)
    Thanks for a great response to my question! I've read many of the comments already, and liked a lot of the suggestions.

    The reading list is not likely to include Neuromancer. Why? Because I read that one this term in a different course, with the same professor. We've already decided not to allow any overlap on the reading lists between the two courses. We are likely to be reading some early Heinlein, possibly Waldo Inc. Many people have suggested reading Jules Verne, and that is certainly a possibility; I was hoping to do more twentieth century stuff, but we'll certainly consider starting with some older material.

    Tonight (or possibly tomorrow night) I will read each and every post which has been submitted (even the -1 posts). I may contact some of you via email for further discussion on some of the more interesting points raised.

    Thanks again for all the terrific comments!
  • by Voivod (27332) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [citpyrc]> on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:59PM (#2615563)
    A common thread in most recent future fiction is the idea of monolithic governments slowly becoming irrelevent to our lives. They are replaced in importance by communities or tribes that reflect the lifestyle choices of its members. These tribes are sometimes megacorporations which are an extended family to their employees, providing everything they need to live productive lives. Sometimes they are special interest groups such as religions, philosophies, pop culture groups, hacker clans, etc.

    For years I've felt like this was slowly becoming true. I think Card's vision of a future Democracy powered by highly sophisticated online discussion groups is the most likely form of government that would rise to manage such tribes.

    Take the society described in Sterling's "Distraction" and add the tribal ideas in Stephenson's "Diamond Age" and then the government from Card's "Ender's Game". I think together that is an excellent picture of what the western world will look like 20 years from now. Read Copland's "Microserfs" to see a good current example... or just realize how powerful Slashdot is in organizing (un)productive energy in the young tech community.

    Also, I recommend that you seek out authors who genuinely come from scientific backgrounds or clearly take these subjects very seriously. David Brin, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling are brilliant people who spend a lot of time thinking about these ideas.

    Others (Gibson) are more interested in the pop culture metaphorical aspects and are in my opinion highly overrated. Gibson did not in any way "invent" virtual reality. Famously he refused to use e-mail for years. Not long ago he wrote for Wired about finally discovering the appeal of the Internet when he began shopping for antique watches on eBay. Whatever.

    If you're interested in good idea sci-fi from the last few decades, find the authors who helped build The Well, or were writing stories inspired by the precursors to the Usenet in the 70s.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday November 26, 2001 @05:30PM (#2615728)
    One could ask the inverse question: what technology was most unpredicted by scifi writers? The I would vote for the personal computer. Until the early 1970s, computers seemed to be going the direction of becoming larger and more central. We had stories about wayward supercomputers like the Forbin Project, 2001 HAL, and the story that spawned the Terminator movies ("I have no mouth and I must scream!") The idea that everyone would own a computer, or hundred or more hidden in cars and appliances, seemed outlandish when they cost a hundred years' salary or more. And whole new segments of human culture- computer stores, software writing companies, games, geekdom, etc.

    If anyone came close to predicting this, it may have been Asimov. I recall a short story (in Nine Tomorrows?) about a society entirely dependent on PDA devices. When a savant comes along who can do arithmetic in his head, then that society goes into chaos.

    Another close Asimov prediction are his robot plantations where armies of robots do all kinds of labor. In some sense the all of embedded CPUs are like this army.
  • Ender's Game (Score:3, Interesting)

    by micromoog (206608) on Monday November 26, 2001 @05:36PM (#2615760)
    Orson Scott Card in Ender's Game describes (in 1977) a very realistic laptop computer/PDA with a touchscreen and wireless network. Ender enjoys instant messaging and email with his friends, and plays a 3D-animated RPG similar to EverQuest on the machine.
  • by Dennis G. Jerz (473507) <blog@nospam.jerz.setonhill.edu> on Monday November 26, 2001 @05:47PM (#2615841) Homepage
    Ray Bradbury's stories predicted VR and the decadent state of TV news. E.M. Forster, writing almost a hundred years ago, imagined a world in which people stayed at home in ergonomic pods, communicating remotely with a vast community of strangers.

    Ray Bradybury's short story, "The Veldt," is about parents who worry that their children are spending too much time in a holodeck-style entertainment room. (OK, the holodeck is still science fiction, but Bradbury aptly defines the anti-videogames suburban hysteria that crops up in the media from time to time.)

    His 1953 novel _Fahrenheit 451_ features interactive talk shows and soap operas, projected on wall-sized TV screens. It describe the protagonist's wife obsessing about upgrading her equipment (buying an attachment that will make it look like characters in the TV shows are speaking her name, thus including her in the experience). He also predicted O.J.-style helocopter chases. From a Salon interview with Bradbury [salon.com]:

    • One "Fahrenheit 451" prediction was the technological evolution, and moral devolution, of television news. In the novel, a fireman protagonist accused of hiding illegal books is pursued by a carnivorous news media seeking to satiate the blood lust of home viewers. As the fireman flees down the street, chased by helicopters, he sees himself through his neighbors' windows, running on their television screens.


    • The day after news helicopters pursued O.J. Simpson fleeing in a Ford Bronco, a New York Times columnist noted that the chase was the "real-life fulfillment" of "Fahrenheit 451."


    I'm saving the best for last...

    E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" describes a future civilization in which all but the lowest classes associate with each other chiefly via long-distance communications devices, rather than in person. In this passage, a woman has just spent three minutes disconnected from the network in order to speak privately to her son. She logs back on (so to speak), and is assaulted by a flood of incoming messages.

    • Vashanti's next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her. The room was filled with the noise of bells, and speaking-tubes. What was the new food like? Could she recommend it? Has she had any ideas lately? Might one tell her one"s own ideas? Would she make an engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date? - say this day month.


    • To most of these questions she replied with irritation - a growing quality in that accelerated age. She said that the new food was horrible. That she could not visit the public nurseries through press of engagements. That she had no ideas of her own but had just been told one-that four stars and three in the middle were like a man: she doubted there was much in it. Then she switched off her correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music.

      The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. She opened with a humorous account of music in the pre Mongolian epoch, and went on to describe the great outburst of song that followed the Chinese conquest. Remote and primæval as were the methods of I-San-So and the Brisbane school, she yet felt (she said) that study of them might repay the musicians of today: they had freshness; they had, above all, ideas. Her lecture, which lasted ten minutes, was well received, and at its conclusion she and many of her audience listened to a lecture on the sea; there were ideas to be got from the sea; the speaker had donned a respirator and visited it lately. Then she fed, talked to many friends, had a bath, talked again, and summoned her bed.


    Bear in mind, Forster was writing in 1909! Here's one online copy of the text:
    http://brighton.ncsa.uiuc.edu/~prajlich/forster.ht ml [uiuc.edu]
  • Missing the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Monday November 26, 2001 @07:26PM (#2616418) Homepage
    I think it was an essay by Heinlein (but may have been Asimov) that said that the important thing is not describing or anticipating future technology in SF, but rather the effect of that technology.

    E.g., if you were writing a story in 1870, descrbing how everyone would be driving around in cars in the future is amusing, but not important. How the automobile will change society by giving people a much greater range of movement is what is important.

    I'd say the biggest influence of SF on future technology has been inspirational. A lot of people involved in the space program in the 60's and 70's got hooked by reading SF, especially Heinlein's works, for example.

  • The web site www.Everything2.com seems just like how Douglas Adams described the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: full of information about everything, but often silly and informal.
  • by f00zbll (526151) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @01:33AM (#2617790)
    If you haven't heard of this yet, there is a annual conference at University of California at Riverside that covers these topics. I don't know if it is still running these days, since the funding for the conference in 97 was getting pretty thin.

    There are tons of paper cover the exact topic you are exploring. A Comparative literature professor is an expert in the field and has managed to build the largest scholastic collection of science fiction. In 1997, the second closest collection had half the number of books.

    Everyone seems to be mentioning the big names, but there are a lot of smaller authors who influenced the science fiction genre. There are a lot of science fiction experts in the Comparative Literature field, so consider looking there for really specific information with citations. I won't bother trying to remember the essays I've read in those topics. The material is numerous and the field of study is about 20 years old.

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