7 Sci Fi Predictions That Came True | Frankenstein Nailed It


The future might already be written. Cheer, shudder, or eye roll in disgust, but history shows that what awaits us is often
spelled out in the pages of science fiction. The genre’s predictive track record stretches
back thousands of years: Authors mused about the lunar landing
as far back as 175 A.D., when Syrian satirist Lucian of Samosata imagined flying ships to the moon, a tale that tapped the seafaring culture’s
desire to ascend to the heavens. Fiction isn’t always pure fantasy. As Dan Rockmore, director of Dartmouth College’s
Neukom Institute for Computational Science, puts it, “Some of our greatest authors are
not making up stuff whole cloth, but sampling from the zeitgeist—scientific or otherwise.” Of course, scribes do have blind spots. They never quite nailed the smartphone (easy, Trekkies—those communicators
are more like fancy pagers). Here’s a glimpse of what sci-fi writers of
the past got right. Inspired by galvanism (aka manipulating muscles
with an electrical current), Mary Shelley’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein
famously reanimates dead flesh. In 1947, the less-ghoulish Dr. Claude Beck
saved a teenage patient with a 60 Hertz jolt to the heart from his homemade defibrillator:
two silver paddles wired to an outlet. By the ’50s, the machines were reviving
patients in hospitals worldwide. In Edward Everett Hale’s 1869 novella
The Brick Moon, four friends from college use a river-​­powered
flywheel to sling a ­skyscraper-​size brick sphere stuffed with people into orbit. The Soviet Union’s ­Salyut program launched a 65-foot
cylinder—​the seminal space station—in 1971. The crew snapped photos of Earth and experimented
with gamma rays and a secret ­military radiometer. Today, there’s only one space station orbiting
the planet: The International Space Station, where astronauts from around the world conduct
experiments in a microgravity environment. However, several countries and private companies
have plans to build and launch their own stations in the coming decades. Characters in Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon
realize computers “were ultimately destined to supplant the race of man,” so they ban
smart gizmos. Real robots have been learning to
outdo us since the 1950s, when AI researchers held a workshop at Dartmouth. IBM’s Arthur Samuel coded a checkers player
that refined its approach until it could beat him. In 2016, Google’s AlphaGo program beat a
human professional for the first time in the ancient Chinese board game Go. A year later, the AI’s successor beat the
number one player in the world. In her 1880 short story “Mizora,” Mary
Bradley Lane describes Amazonians who transform beef’s chemical elements into synthetic
burgers. She calls it “…a more economical way
of obtaining meat than by fattening animals.” Lane wasn’t far off: Dutch scientist Mark Post’s
petri-​­born patty starts as bovine stem cells. In 2013, the first one cost
more than $280,000 to grow, but he’s since trimmed that to around $12. In Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s 1905 story
“Sultana’s Dream,” a female-led utopia has made many scientific advances, including saving summer sun to
warm a town through winter. After decades of small-scale projects in Nordic
nations, that dream turned real in 2007. At the Drake Landing Solar Community in ­Alberta,
Canada, 800 solar thermal collectors generate energy in the form of heat. That energy can either be held in short-term
storage and used to warm homes, or moved to long-term storage
during the hotter months. The novel Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle
details a boy inventor whose blaster stuns targets with “a powerful current of stored
electricity.” That idea sounded neat to NASA engineer Jack Cover, whose TASER is an acro­nymic reference
to that 1911 novel. It stands for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric
Rifle. The weapon he patented in 1974 conducts a
jolt of juice from a battery through a pair of leads into the target’s ­nervous system. Ray Bradbury famously wanted to prevent dystopian
futures, not predict them. But one tiny piece of tech in 1953’s Fahrenheit
451 hit a nonfiction tipping point: “thimble radios,” which provided “an electronic ocean
of sound, of music and talk.” The next year, Texas Instruments debuted the
first mass-​­market portable radio, complete with a single earphone. Since then, several technologies have gained
(and lost) popularity: boomboxes, CD players, mp3 players, and the smartphone. What’s your favorite piece of tech straight
out of sci-fi? Is there something we forgot to include on
this list? Let us know in the comments below. And read more about sci-fi gadgets turned
reality at PopSci.com.

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