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Science Fiction into Science Fact? 892

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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  • 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.
  • by metlin ( 258108 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:36PM (#2614472) Journal
    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.
  • Jules Verne (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Erasei ( 315737 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:37PM (#2614490) Homepage
    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 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 [] is on the verge of making this a reality and has already got posters up in department stores...
  • by remande ( 31154 ) <> 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.

  • by dwschulze ( 535167 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:57PM (#2614695)
    While not really science fiction the book "Interplanetary Flight" (ASIN: 0425064484), first published in the 1950s and republished in the 1980s, presented options for interplanetary space flight that were fiction at the time of its publication.

    Clarke discussed the concept of putting artificial satellites into earth orbit and suggests that while that sounds fantastic it might not seem so far-fetched if the earth had more than one natural satellite. Reading that comment in the 1980s made me realize how much our thinking has changed in the 20th century.

    He also discussed at least 2 options for escaping the enormous pull of earth's gravity. One option is to use a space station as a refueling platform. The other was to use a multistage spacecraft that jettisons empty fuel tanks to reduce its weight.

    Another book to check out is Clarke's "Ascent to Orbit" (ASIN: 047187910X), his scientific autobiography.

    These two books probably fall under the category of futurism rather than science fiction, but they give great appreciation for his genius as scientist, writer, and futurist.

  • Re:ACC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @02:59PM (#2614713) Homepage
    Clarke _did_ predict geosync communications satellites... but he _didn't_ predict tightbeam communications, e.g. by microwave or laser, or the transistor. He thought that the satellites would be manned, because people would have to replace the vacuum tubes onboard.

    IIRC, similar predictions were made in the short stories in the 'Venus Ecliptic' stories. More interestingly, it had a discussion of the societal problems of replicator technology. (they could convert matter into radio, transcribe it onto LP's, and then play it out to make copies) Sadly, the author wimped out with the introduction of a substance that couldn't be copied.
  • Vernor Vinge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by muness ( 539140 ) <muness@ g m a i l . com> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:02PM (#2614734) Homepage
    Vernor Vinge is a prophetic sci fi writer. (Not to mention an awesome, engaging stylist with intriguing story lines).

    Salon had an article on him some time back. [ / [] ].

    '"True Names" today reads more like a piece of reportage than speculative science fiction. William Gibson may get all the glory for defining the word "cyberspace," but Vinge actually nailed the details. "True Names" includes online gathering places identical to the MUDs (multi-user domains) that became the online rage in the late '80s. Its protagonists guard their real names from the National Security Agency and other hackers with cryptographic safeguards, just like today's cryptopunks'.

    The internet ("True Names"), computer generated photo-realistic movies ("The Accomplice"), Human-Computer interfaces ("Bookworm, Run!" and his real time stories - "The Peace War" and others).
    He wrote "The Accomplice" in the 60's and set it in '93 so he was almost right-on in that case.

    His prediction of a coming Singularity are pretty interesting too. [ ing.html [] ].

  • by SuzanneA ( 526699 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:03PM (#2614741)
    it did have an influence on people.

    So much so, that the first US nuclear sub was called the Nautilus in honor.

  • Re:Asimov (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:06PM (#2614765)
    I know that this is the obvious thing to say, but hell, Isaac Asimov would be a great start in reading on things.

    Agreed. If you want technology, you need to read technological, i.e. hard science fiction. Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein et al.

    Others have mentioned Asimov's robot stories, and one point I always liked was that the robots were machines, created by engineers, invented for a purpose. They were designed to perform a function, not to demonstrate that There Are Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

    One of my favourite visual records remains 2001. Check out the navigation displays in the spacecraft. Remember that this was 1968, when they had to be animated by hand and matted in to the film.

    I remember a few years ago when a newly launched amateur satellite proved to have sufficiently sensitive receivers that it could ba accessed with a handheld radio. One of the people who did the testing noted that he remembered the first person he had seen talking to a spacecraft with a handheld radio. His name was Captain Kirk.


  • by kashani ( 2011 ) <.ten.elppadab. .ta. .gro.todhsals.> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:07PM (#2614770) Homepage Journal
    John Brunner's Shockwave rider would be a better book to read for this. Written in the early 70's. Worldwide data nets and worms attacking data.

  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:07PM (#2614772) Homepage
    Heh. Wrong sf series. The taser derives from the significantly older Tom Swift novels, according to the inventor. (so I've been told)

    Taser stands for 'Thomas A Swift's Electric Rifle'
  • True Names (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Marsh Jedi ( 244205 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:08PM (#2614780)

    In terms of computer tech, I would have to suggest Vernor Vinge, an excellent hard Sci-Fi writer and UC San Diego Comp Sci emeritus who deals largely with the technological possibilities of distributed systems and their subsequent effects on civilization.

    Specifically, he postulated cyberspace (long before Gibson) in a novella called True Names, and also speculates on the future of mankind as the rate of technological innovation continues to accelerate, perhaps towards some sort of singularity [] beyond which further human endeavor will be somewhat incomprehensible to us.

    He has won several awards, in particular for A Fire Upon the Deep, which looks at the "silence in the sky" in, if life is so damned plentiful in this universe, where are all the visible-forty-lights-away Bussard Ramjet flares? He uses a solution to this question as a unique premise for the novel. Awesome.

  • Farenheit 451 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShieldWolf ( 20476 ) <(jeffrankine) (at) (> 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.

  • by iguana ( 8083 ) <`moc.sysdnetxe' `ta' `pevad'> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:12PM (#2614820) Homepage Journal
    I remember reading somewhere that Heinlein not only predicted the answering machine, but also predicted ghost screening (the practice of letting the answering machine pick up the phone before answering it yourself).

    In that context, there was a quote from another sci-fi author (name forgotten): "A good science fiction writer predicts the automobile. A great science fiction writer predicts the traffic jam."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by TurtleBlue ( 202905 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:25PM (#2614916)
    Neuromancer was definitely his crowning achievement, and tech lingo will forever be indebted to him.

    However, one of his short stories you might find really fascinating, in that he illustrates the opposite of what you are asking. In his collection of short stories Burning Chrome he has a story named "The Gernsback Continuum" where he describes visions of the future that never quite came to pass... but what if they did? Things like flying cars from the 50's and huge single airwings with 100's of propellers. Think about 20's gothic architecture and those early visions of going to the moon. It would be a nice counterpoint in your work to what were "probable" visions of the future versus what was in the imagined future.

    Burning Chrome is also a good basis, because little works like "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" show him developing the ideas that later became the astounding Neuromancer.


    ps - 62-36, nice - I was there.
  • by sprboy ( 136565 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:26PM (#2614918)
    In "Between Planets" answering machines are presented...and also used for screening phone calls.
  • by Mr. Slurpee ( 97260 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:29PM (#2614940) Homepage
    well, the first thing that definitely comes to mind is william gibson. not that we're scampering about information networks with electrode tiaras and viewing everything as three-dimensional constructs piped into our optic nerves, but that we probably will be in the next couple decades. of course, i suppose this isn't about what will be but what already is, in which case gibson will have had more of an impact on language with the word "cyberspace." read "neuromancer" (which i'm sure you have already, so read it again) or anything else in the cyberspace series; i feel that gibson has a good talent for thinking about natural extensions of modern technology (superconductiong quantum interference devices, anyone?). he also wrote about things like cybercrime, implants, and genetically designed "vat-grown" food and replacement body parts. read "burning chrome" (again) as well - his collection of short stories has some gems in it, too.

    another is, of course, star trek - quintessential pop sci-fi. the past ten or so years has seen a new sector of the personal electronics market grow around watches-that-are-more-than-a-watch. barometers (and thus altimiters), compases, gps, temperature, depth gauges etc. all being packaged in something relatively tiny and man-portable - might not look like a tricorder but definitely follows it by providing at-hand sensory readings. ST: TNG's PADDs (those nifty portable flatscreen display devices, for the uninitiated) have surely affected the design of today's PDAs.

    (alduos huxley's "brave new world" would be great for the class. genetic modification, a culture placated by drugs, cloning, and the moral ramifications thereof.)

    i can think of a few other current technologies that seem to have come from sci-fi (although i couldn't provide you with a bibliography). stun guns/tasers and other nonlethal weapons (glue guns, net guns, emp, etc.), energy weapons (lasers, railguns, yadda yadda), and telemedicine (anne mccafferey's "the ship who searched", perhaps?).

    good luck, and let us know how it went at the end of the semester!
  • by Mad Bad Rabbit ( 539142 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:34PM (#2614984)
    In 1932, physicist Leo Szilard read an H.G. Wells novel, The World Set Free [] (1914) which described an imaginary world-war using atomic weapons. According to Szilard, this novel was responsible for his interest in in nuclear physics (despite Lord Rutherford's proclamation that atomic power was impossible). A year later, he realized how to set up a fission chain reaction and create atomic power.
  • by ColdGrits ( 204506 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:36PM (#2614994)
    You understand incorrectly.

    Sir Arthur C Clarke does not have a patent on the geosynchronous satellite (which he rather regrets, I understand).

    HOWEVER, his description in the paper he published in 1945 was sufficiently detailed so as to PREVENT anyone else from obtaining a patent decades later when such satellites became a reality.
  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:39PM (#2615013)
    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.
  • Wrong way around? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the bluebrain ( 443451 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:43PM (#2615039)
    Apart from incidentals (such as Jules Verne's pretty good estimate of the escape velocity of earth's gravitational field - about 11 kps) which I put off as coincidents, I see SF-RL links in two categories:

    SF -> RL:
    naming, e.g. "cyberspace", "robots", "cyborgs", "beaming", etc. etc.

    RL -> SF:
    (and this is one of the aspects of SF which facinates me) interpretations of the world. For example: Douglas Adams' Hitch-Hiker trilogy (heh...) contains todays lay-man's interpretations of modern physics, as concerns faster-than-light travel, time travel, computing, and so on. In general: An SF author is called upon to paint a picture of a world which is different from the one which is accepted in the author's day - and the interesting thing is to see just where the author's imagination doesn't flex, especially in "older" SF. This touches not only on science, but also on sociology, psychology etc. For instance: some 50s 60s SF is good solid stuff, but all spaceship's crew are scrubbed clean & in white uniforms, like they just came off an super-modern ocean-going ship, and the society is, by today's standards, sexist & racist to a hairraising degree.
    BTW: don't miss out on all the SF which is too litarary to be classified as SF, such as Hesse's "Das Glasperlenspiel", or Michel Houellebecq's "Les Particules Elementaires".
  • Re:Neuromancer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alienmole ( 15522 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:52PM (#2615092)
    Without Neuromancer, Slashdot wouldn't exist today; Linux wouldn't; the dot-com boom that paid for most of our college educations and/or BMWs wouldn't have existed.

    I'm a big Neuromancer, Gibson, Stephenson etc. fan, but I think your statement is way too strong. Neuromancer might have provided a social context for some subcultures, as you suggest, but I fail to see how, say, Linux wouldn't have existed without Neuromancer.

    In general, I think authors are often given too much credit for both "predicting" and inventing things in their work. The canonical example is Clarke's communication satellites. That may very well have been a real invention, which he might even have patented. Most work in books, though, is nowhere near as original as that. What the best speculative authors mostly do amount to thought experiments which integrate and extrapolate from current trends. In some cases, such as Neuromancer, this is done well enough that the result ends up with strong echoes of something that subsequently happens. This doesn't mean that Neuromancer caused those things. It can mean that it influenced the way many people thought about them, though.

  • by kallisti ( 20737 ) <> on Monday November 26, 2001 @03:53PM (#2615100) Homepage
    In "Pirates of the Universe" by Terry Bisson there is a man who wants to spend time with a virtual reality girlfriend named Tiffany. The problem is that when he isn't in the virtual space, he cannot remember anything concrete about her. The reason why is that she has been copy protected!

    This novel is full of nifty ideas and deserves to be better known. If you like "out there" writers like Dick, Varley or Egan pick it up.

  • by Courageous ( 228506 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:06PM (#2615181)

    The Star Trek universe is mostly science fantasy. It's all made-up wizardry cloaked in technical-seaming mumbo-jumbo.

  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:14PM (#2615226) Homepage 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

    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

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

  • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:21PM (#2615287)
    'Come, come, Mr Clarke,' said the people at the Patent Office. 'We're a serious outfit, we haven't got time to waste on fantastic ideas like this.' Years later, when the first satellite (with which Arthur was actively involved) actually went up, and the nations were queuing to get their own satellites up, Arthur went back to the Patent Office. 'But, Mr Clarke,' they said, 'the satellite already exists. You should have come to us earlier.'

    It's worth pointing out that Clarke's original concept involved three enormous manned space-stations in geostationary orbit, not the relatively small solid-state devices we have now. Really, Clarke's idea came down to a lot of foresight and some clever geometry. He solved a problem that nobody had even though to consider at the time.

    All I can say is a) Clarke's a very clever guy who deserves an enormous amount of credit for his inventiveness, and b) thank god he wasn't able to patent that idea. As clever as he was for being the first one to have it, let's face it... If you need to send a signal over the horizon, it's not going to take long for you to hit upon the idea of geosync sattelites (assuming you have the resources to put them up.)

    I can't precisely say that the solution is "obvious", but I do think a lot of communications companies would have found themselves unnecessarily shelling out to Clarke, regardless of his actual contribution to their efforts.

  • Cordwainer Smith (Score:2, Interesting)

    by knobmaker ( 523595 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:25PM (#2615337) Homepage Journal
    I think this overstates the seminal importance of Neuromancer. Gibson is a fine writer, but in my view, the most vivid tropes in his book were taken from the movie Blade Runner, and I see that movie as the primordial genesis of today's cyberculture, such as it is. Gibson cheerfully admits that he knew next to nothing about computers when he wrote Neuromancer, though certainly that didn't keep him from coming up with an engaging visual metaphor for data systems.

    Getting back to technology and sf, the stories written by Cordwainer Smith back in the (I believe) 50s concern genesplicing. His best-known theme concerns animals elevated to sentience via genetic engineering, to serve as slaves to the fully-human. This is only a small step, in conceptual terms) from tomatoes with flounder genes, which already exist.

    I recommend "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" as a start.
  • by Kent Brewster ( 324037 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @04:37PM (#2615415) Homepage Journal
    See Friday, 1982. Heinlein's view of the Web wasn't fully-immersive cyberspace; it was just the simple--and brutally addictive--joy of clicking from one subject to another and going wherever you wanted.
  • 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 td ( 46763 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @05:22PM (#2615691) Homepage
    > 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.
  • 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.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 []:

    • 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: ml []
  • Brave New World (Score:2, Interesting)

    by madmagic ( 318186 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @05:52PM (#2615873) Homepage
    Selanit asked:

    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)."

    Despite your post-WWI and hard-tech parameters, I'd advise looking at Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World.' The social engineering themes in the novel tend to get the most attention, but he also had some early visions of biotech -- bottle babies, pre-'birth' physical manipulation of embryos for intelligence, character and physical attributes -- and the widespread use of approved mood-altering drugs. It's a short line of descent from those ideas to birth technologies now in use -- and from Soma to Prozac. [TM]

    BNW was also much closer than Orwell's 1984 at predicting the future, IMO. Like the best of Gibson's and John Brunner's dystopic novels, BNW has both the social and technical threads needed to weave the believable fabric of a future world.


    "We haven't any use for old things here." - Aldous Huxley, ibid.
  • Re:Neuromancer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gray peter ( 539195 ) on Monday November 26, 2001 @06:06PM (#2615961) Homepage
    Neuromancer did more than that; it created the subculture of techies and dweebs who then created the internet as a senior project

    Although definitely one of the best books ever written, the subcultures of which you speak were already well on their way towards creation (if not already created). Don't forget, by the time Neuromancer was published, the idea of "hackers" as a subculture of "techies and dweebs" was already in the mainstream culture with the movie wargames.

    If you want to give credit to Neuromancer (actually, you have to consider the entire sprawl series) I would say that the biggest contribution from these books is the negative sociological impact of digital culture. The vision that Gibson has for the net are nothing like what we have today. His network is much more ubiquitous than ours.

  • by nightwing2000 ( 539158 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:22AM (#2617902)
    Asimov - is credited with approaching robotics from a logical, scientific point of view. (machines don't have emotions). Heinlein - In "Waldo, Inc." actually describes Waldoes, mechanical hands for remote work for a person with degerative muscle disease who lives in orbit. Vernor Vinge - True Names and Other Lies- Describes a typcal Internet MUD years before anyone else. Some French Guy - wrote a story "By The Rivers of Babylon" about a member of a primitive tribe from upstate NY who visits the bombed-out city, has a vision of back when "...they turned the night into day for their pleasure." A typical post-atomic apocalype novel? Except this was written in 1938! There's also the famous story of the FBI visiting the offices of Astounding (now Analog) magazine in 1942 or 43 to ask about a science fiction story describing atomic bombs. Here they are trying to maintain the strictest secrecy and some guy is dreaming this up and describing it in the public media.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.