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Prediction or influence? Sci-fi books that predicted the future

Angry Floof

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http://www.universetoday.com/111654/infographic-sci-fi-books-that-predicted-the-future/

“Some [writers of the past] were even derided in their times for what were called outlandish and unbelievable fictions. Yet their imaginations were in reality painting portraits that would eventually be mirrored by history books a century later. Which seems to beg the question, Where does inspiration come from? So to decide for yourself whether these writers were seers or just plain lucky, explore our History of Books that Predicted the Future.”

BookPredictions_940x3463.jpg
 

Bullmoose Too

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I wouldn't call widespread invasive government spying a prediction or influece. Governemnts spy on people ever since governments existed. The idferrence is that they just got better, fancier gadgets to do it with.
 

Keith&Co.

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Some of those chart items are kind of misleading, though...

Writers work with ideas. Going from date published to the first time successfully implemented skips the first time a professional scientist or engineer comes up with the idea... Like the solar sails. It would be better to measure the time from publication to the first paper stating the possibility.

And in 1870, electricity was the new spangled forefront of science. Verne just imagined SOME sort of ultra-powerful source of...power to eventually be invented. Not a prediction of a uranium reactor.
 

Petrel

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I Robot (Asimov) 1950
Killdozer (Sturgeon) 1944
City (Simak) 1954


So, intelligent people, many of them scientists, see a trend, project its probable course and envision the likely outcome. Hardly surprising. If those clever people share their ideas with other scientists and/or pass them on to their students and younger readers, that's not exactly surprising either.

Jurassic Park (Crichton) 1993
 

Jimmy Higgins

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No Edgar Allan Poe? In 1848, granted more poetical than scientific, he surmised of the singularity prior to the Big Bang, and then end of all things back into a singularity.
 

Jimmy Higgins

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No Edgar Allan Poe? In 1848, granted more poetical than scientific, he surmised of the singularity prior to the Big Bang, and then end of all things back into a singularity.
Oh and let it be restated that the "big bang" didn't exist yet.
 

lpetrich

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Isaac Asimov once made a good case for the proposition that the important thing about science fiction is not the technological advance but what people would do with it and how it would affect them. It was in "Future? Tense!", collected in From Earth to Heaven (1965). He noted that science-fictioneers are stereotyped either as indulgers in weird fantasies or as farsighted predictors of the future. After discussing some SFers' successful, if limited, predictions, he notes:
Do you see, then, that the important prediction is not the automobile, but the parking problem; not radio, but the soap-opera; not the income tax but the expense account; not the Bomb but the nuclear stalemate? Not the action, in short, but the reaction?
Thus, the important issue about automatic-driving cars is not those cars themselves but what happens to manual driving. IA himself once wrote a story, "Sally" (Nightfall and Other Stories), in which the authorities outlawed manual driving as needlessly dangerous, but not without a lot of controversy.


He is most famous for his Three Laws of Robotics, which are programmed into his positronic robots. His Three Laws were essentially safety mechanisms, inspired by his experience of numerous safety mechanisms and devices, and inspired by his frustration at SF stories where robots would destroy their creators. There are numerous problems with their implementation, and he got a *lot* of stories out of those problems. But the overall principle is correct, I think, and the Three Laws can be interpreted as three laws of tool design.

However, the positrons in his positronic robots were a technological detail, not relevant to the broader picture. He was inspired by the recent discovery of them, but it's rather easy to show that positrons are unsuitable for computer circuitry. They require too much energy to make, and they release too much energy when they combine with ordinary electrons. However, semiconductors feature not only conduction electrons but conduction holes, absences of electrons. Holes act something like positrons, but they are much easier to make and much safer to destroy.


He has some amusing examples of how not to write SF, imagining how someone might write about cars in 1880:
There could be the excitement of a last-minute failure in the framistan and the hero can be described as ingeniously designing a liebestraum out of an old baby carriage at the last minute and cleverly hooking it up to the bispallator in such a way as to mutonate the karrogel.
and
"The automobile came thundering down the stretch, its mighty tires pounding, and its tail assembly switching furiously from side to side, while its flaring foam-flecked air intake seemed rimmed with oil." Then, when the car has finally performed its task of rescuing the girl and confounding the bad guys, it sticks its fuel intake hose into a can of gasoline and quietly fuels itself.
I'm sure that many of you people can give numerous examples of these, especially in visual-media SF.
 

bilby

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In Wells's The World Set Free, he describes the use of atomic bombs; but his vision is strangely rooted in the delivery systems technology of its time (1914), and he seems unable to grasp how such a vastly greater amount of energy release than that of a chemical explosion could nevertheless be expended in a fraction of a second. So his atomic bombs are dropped from biplanes, by dint of being lifted from the gunner's foot-well by two handles, the fuse safety torn off (using the teeth, as both hands are required to lift the bomb), and the armed device dropped over the side of the cockpit, to fall on the target below - where it explodes with the violence of a normal chemical bomb, but then continues to explode with that violence for several weeks. This long duration makes them ideal for demolishing structures such as bridges and dykes, where one wishes to prevent the defenders from rebuilding the infrastructure once it has been destroyed.

All of this speculative detail being wildly at odds with the real experience of atomic weapons, it is questionable how much credit to give this 'prediction'; just about the only new thing he predicted was that, given the enormous energy available, a bomb could one day be produced that makes use of it. Given the obvious belligerence of humanity, this is not a particularly far-fetched thought.

Wells came up with some brilliant and far-sighted ideas about the future. But his prediction of the atomic bomb, in my opinion, is not one of his best.
 

Ford

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There was a book I once read that described some pretty unbelievable technology that would be used in the future.

A lot of it was ridiculous. Disintegration rays. Force fields. Transmission of power from great distances. Gravity-defying material mined from a parallel universe that allowed people to basically fly. Other materials from the same universe which allowed communication that was secure because it left our universe and came back.

But the "phone" they described that used this fantastic material wasn't that far off from a flip-phone.

Our heroes needed the security because they were living in an America that had been over-run by (of all people) the Chinese. Driven into the wilderness, they'd reorganized into gangs which supplanted the family as the social organization of choice.

Perhaps most interesting was the description of how the people in the cities lived. They had the luxury of ordering everything they needed from a screen located in their home or apartment which also served them entertainment and news. When they purchased something, the money was automatically deducted from their bank account, and the item was shipped to their door. Cash almost never changed hands. What's more, if something went wrong with the screen, the average citizen was in no position to fix it. They had to call tech support.

Okay, it wasn't called tech support in the novel, but that's basically what it was.

The book? Armageddon 2419...the novelization of the stories that would become "Buck Rogers." Written by Philip Francis Nowlan starting in 1928. You can buy a copy on Amazon.com...which is basically the same system the author wrote about 50 years before the advent of the internet.
 

Togo

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I'm a great fan of William Gibson, but his predicted future cybernet was very different from the WWW that developed, and much closer to the kind of network that already existed at the time he wrote. Given that we already had hacking, local system nets, and companies with valuable data falling foul of teenagers, I'm not sure that he added much beyond a seriously needed sense of style.
 

Underseer

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I think we have to be careful here. Just because a work of science fiction came out before a given technology was developed, it does not follow that the science fiction author came up with the idea.

The better science fiction authors spend time interviewing scientists in order to make their work more realistic, and those scientists are working on the bleeding edge where many of them speculate on what technologies might result from scientific discoveries.

In other words, many of the "predictions" came from the scientists interviewed by the sci-fi authors, rather than from the sci-fi authors themselves.
 

dystopian

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There was a book I once read that described some pretty unbelievable technology that would be used in the future.

A lot of it was ridiculous. Disintegration rays. Force fields. Transmission of power from great distances. Gravity-defying material mined from a parallel universe that allowed people to basically fly. Other materials from the same universe which allowed communication that was secure because it left our universe and came back.

Some of these things are in fact already possible. We in fact *can* transmit power (wirelessly) over great distances (microwave transmission); force fields aren't ridiculous and to an extent are also already possible and in development in a variety of forms. Disintegration rays just sound like an energy weapon powerful enough to effectively disintegrate any matter it comes into contact with; which you could argue plasma can do. The other two on that list are indeed pure fiction; but I wouldn't exactly call them ridiculous either.
 
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