Science fiction is full of ideas for how the future might manifest, and by virtue of existing in the realm of imagination, sci-fi writers are bound to ideate some things.
Yet, there are times when the predictions get a bit eerie, calling out not just the invention but the general societal vibe that accompanies it. Though the realm of science (and science fiction) is vast and it’s hard to say who had what idea first, these are some examples of times that sci-fi absolutely called it when it came to technological advancements.
The Radio – Jules Verne, In the Year 2889 (1889)
When asked to imagine what the work would look like in a thousand years by a publisher, Verne came up with a number of predictions, many of which were surprisingly accurate.
One of the most immediately vital was the idea of news that was spoken to subscribers rather than read in a paper, meaning that he very much guessed the advent of radio technology only a few years after radiowaves had first been discovered.
The Internet – Mark Twain, From The London Times in 1904 (1898)
Ostensibly about a man who is falsely convicted of a crime that never occurred and sentenced to death, Twain packs a lot of his own cynicism into this short story. Ultimately a condemnation of the legal system as it existed in its time, there is still a bizarre prediction of a device that allows our protagonist to speak to people and view sites from all across the world as they occur.
Personal Computers – The Eagle (1950)
A lesser-known entry, The Eagle was a British comic strip that ran for nearly two decades. With a concept that very much leaned into the possibility of new inventions, the series didn’t get everything right. One realm in which it seems to have been absolutely on point, however, is that of the PC.
Also positing that they would replace TVs as home entertainment devices, The Eagle sort of predicted Netflix.
Video Calls – Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911)
Released as a 12-part serial, this is a truly silly voyage that makes a number of predictions, many of which are not correct. However, it did make one very accurate guess in its description of video calls, along with some nods to air travel and tape recorders along the way. Later this would be more developed in sci-fi films like 2001, but for 1911, these ideas were well ahead of their time.
Cell Phones – H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come (1933)
A war destroys Europe and leaves its remaining populace hanging by a thread until a number of technological advancements allow for a leveling of the playing field. A surprisingly optimistic view of a Utopian dictatorship run by the world's best and brightest that works with the good of the people in mind, this story also introduces cellphones, or “wireless communication devices.”
Self-Driving Cars – Ray Bradbury, The Pedestrian (1951)
In a world where no one walks and the sidewalks have fallen into decay, a writer travels around the city at night. He never runs into anyone until a self-driving robotic police car stops him and takes him in due to not understanding a person walking around of their own free will.
This story introduces self-driving cars, but perhaps more importantly opens up a discussion of the importance of public transportation and walking routes.
Smartwatches – Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
In a world where mysterious aliens influence the trajectory of humanity, the novel 2001 (released after the film though it was written concurrently) raises a number of questions around the potential dangers of technology.
This was far from the only time Arthur C. Clarke accurately predicted a technological development decades away from the fact, but characters often utilized smartwatches to communicate.
3D Printing – Star Trek (1966)
We might not have quite made it to a time in which teleportation devices exist, but we’ve got 3D printing on lock. Not only did the original series of Star Trek show its crew often utilizing devices that resembled flip phones, but it also gave us machines that were able to manifest certain items. 3D printing might not quite be able to drop a warm cup of cocoa on the belt quite yet, but when it does we can all say that Star Trek called it.
AI – Metropolis (1927)
Artificial intelligence is nothing new to the world of sci-fi films, but some may be surprised to learn that it began all the way back in the silent era. Metropolis introduced a totalitarian, futuristic society in which a robot designed to emulate Maria (Brigitte Helm) sows dissent among workers. The Machine is used for evil means by its creator, encouraging an uprising so drastic that it threatens to destroy the city and everyone in it.
Siri – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Leaning into the humor potential of a dystopian future, Hitchhiker’s Guide introduces us to Arthur Dent, who escapes from Earth as it is cosmically bulldozed over to make room for a space highway. Full of commentary around the mundanity of progress and destruction, this series is rife with predictions. The Guide that Dent acquires to help him in his travels is a small, book-like object that has a lot in common with tablets of today. Perhaps most notably, it can help answer questions, making it a mirror image to Siri.
Earbuds – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Fahrenheit 451 is so named due to it being the temperature at which paper burns (apparently in truth closer to 480), which gives a nod to its themes. A professional book burner discovers books for the first time and his horizons expand to the point of questioning everything around him.
Meanwhile, everyone walks around wearing earbuds known as Seashell Radio, which is meant to indoctrinate the populace. Again, a bleak take on a device many of us use in our day-to-day, but in the novel, it was meant as a warning against numbing yourself to reality.
Smart Homes – Demon Seed (1977)
If you’ve ever wondered what a sci-fi take on Rosemary’s Baby might look like, luckily for you, that movie already exists. Demon Seed follows the disintegration of a marriage that occurs due to the husband’s fixation on robotics. Installing an autonomous computer system named Proteus in their home (that ultimately impregnates his wife, yikes!) this is a classic tale of a creation getting away from its creator. Also, Proteus is basically a Smart Home.
AR – Philip K. Dick, Minority Report (1956)
At his best, Dick asked questions of personhood, interrogating the way we view sentience and who we deny autonomy to. His work is rife with AR (augmented reality) and AI, making this a somewhat arbitrary choice as most of his books tackle similar subject matter.
Yet, Minority Report is full of fascinating tech predictions, including AR, to the point that it’s still one of the most referenced stories when the subject arises today.
Military Drones – The Terminator (1984)
While we would have loved to have left most of the Terminator films in the realm of fantasy, their grim view of the future has occasionally been confirmed. One such prediction is the use of military drones. In the films, these drones create substantial barriers for the humans resisting the Terminators.
In reality, drones can be used for beneficial purposes, but there is unquestionably a downside to them when used with impunity.
Atomic Bomb – Action Comics #101 (1946)
Another one on the list of things we kind of wish no one had predicted, an issue of Action Comics showed the villainous Lex Luthor quite literally invent the Atom Bomb.
It is rumored that the U.S. government asked the story to be delayed until after the tragedy of Nagasaki and Hiroshima due to its creepy accuracy, down to showing a mushroom cloud rising up when Superman activates the explosion.
Organ Transplants – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
Though it’s very much a work of fiction, one of the great strengths of Shelley’s The Modern Prometheus is that it was rooted in the science of its day. In the early-to-mid 1800s, there were many scientists dedicating their lives to attempting to bring cadavers back to life by harnessing natural phenomena like electrical energy. Well ahead of her time in most respects, Shelley wrote of a creature who is brought back to life due to mixing and matching a number of viable organs. This isn’t what organ transplants look like today, but it was a pretty good guess at what was to come.
Genetic Engineering – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)
In this novel, people are genetically engineered in order to create a perfect society. Serving as a criticism of Henry Ford’s assembly line style of mass production, the people become the product in Brave New World. While this is a notably bleak interpretation of the possibilities of genetic engineering, it serves as a potent warning of a society that prioritizes consumption over connection.
Moon Landing – Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
Assigning any one writer as the first to predict a moon landing is dicey territory as the possibility loomed large in mythology and folklore long before the sci-fi genre was officially born. Yet, as its title implies, From the Earth to the Moon is very much about the journey of trying to launch a rocket into space, with the sequel Around the Moon dealing with what the crew finds when they land.
Cameras Everywhere – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
Orwell likely never intended his novel 1984 to be as prescient as it was, but his prediction of a “big brother” government that was able to circumvent privacy protection laws due to ominous threats of a forever war turned out to be more than a little bit uncomfortably accurate. In 1984, protagonist Winston Smith interacts with a screen that sees everything in his home.
The Cult of Personality – Octavia Butler, The Parable Books (1993)
Butler is the kind of sci-fi writer where her books have so much insight into the state of things today that it can sometimes cause a doubletake. Nowhere is that more clear than in the Parable novels, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. An eerie prediction of late-stage capitalism in which a zealot quite literally claims to want to “make America great again,” the series was unfinished at the time of Butler’s death. As it stands, masks that allow their wearer to vanish into a “simpler” world and political upheaval are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the predictions of Butler’s work.
More From Wealth of Geeks
- Review: ‘Resident Alien’ Continues to Improve With Each New Episode, Including “Radio Harry”
- Where to Stream the Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees
- ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ Revisited: “The Man Trap”
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Paramount+.
Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.