Just because we don’t have flying cars like the Jestsons or hover-boards like in Back to the Future, yet, doesn’t mean we’re not living in the most rapidly advancing technological age in history. From the phone that you’re reading this on, to the headphones you’re wearing, we’re most definitely living in the future we envisioned. And although some of the things we thought we’d have by the turn of the 21st century still feel light years away, there are also some that none of us could have ever predicted. Well, at least, that most of us could have never predicted.
These 10 bits of technology were each predicted in science fiction stories, decades – sometimes even centuries – before their advent, and with alarming accuracy. See if you can predict what they are.
Although headphones were already around when Ray Bradbury’s critically acclaimed dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, they were over-sized, clunky ear muffs that looked more like a helmet and felt like they weighed more than your head. Bradbury wrote about a better audio listening device in Fahrenheit 451, similar to what we’ve come to know as ear-buds, writing “little seashells… thimble radios” that brought an “electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk,” nearly fifty years before modern day ear-buds hit the market.
Once upon a time, if you were feeling down in the dumps, you were expected to just get over it. And if you were experiencing the throws of depression, or any other mental disorder, you could easily have been locked off with the key thrown away with like-minded people. But Aldous Huxley envisioned a different future in 1931, with his classic novel, Brave New World, a story that showcases an eerily prophetic future. Most notably is his use of “soma,” a mood-enhancing medication that helps to keep people from losing their minds in 2540. Antidepressants weren’t even mildly discussed or studied until the 1950s.
8. Credit Cards
For better or for worse, it is very difficult this day and age to be a part of society without a credit card. But, that obviously wasn’t always the case, as the credit system was once based entirely around cash, save for perhaps the very generous hand-written IOU. But in the 1888 novel, Looking Back, author Edward Bellamy foresaw a world where plastic replaced paper. He wrote about a monetary system in which each citizen has a card which carries a certain credit limit of funds on it, which is backed by the American government and can be used all over the world.
7. E-Book Readers
Whether you use a Kindle or a Nook, there’s no doubt that E-book readers have taken on a life of their own. Even a decade ago, very few people predicted just how big they would become. But in the 1960s, it stands to reason that few people ever even thought they would happen. But writer Stanislaw Lem did in 1961, when he predicted digital novels in his book, Return From The Stars. Although, his depiction of “crystals with recorded contents” that use touch-screen technology definitely don’t sound as compact as the real modern day versions that hit the scene over 50 years later.
6. Bionic Limbs
The advancement of prosthetic limbs is nothing short of amazing, with even Olympic runners being able to compete using hand-crafted legs. Although the limbs that move with the thoughts of the wearer can’t exactly be found in any drug store, they are available and as the technology advances, are becoming more prevalent. When a teen in the U.K. was set to receive his very own bionic hand, many people couldn’t help but have flashbacks to the the 1960s popular science fiction show, The Six Million Dollar Man. Then, of course, there was the Bionic Woman in the 1970s, the Borg in Star Trek, and Luke Skywalker’s dad-turned-villain, Darth Vader.
5. Video Chatting
It’s already hard to picture a world without FaceTime, webcams and Skype. But it wasn’t all that long ago when we had none of that. Hell, it wasn’t even all that long ago when all of our phones had cords connected to them. But in 1911, Hugo Gernsback could be the first writer to call video chatting. In his book, The Telephot, Gernsback writes of an invention called the Ralph 124C 41+ which was a screen you could mount to the wall, used to video chat with others around the world. Pretty impressive for an idea over a century old. Maybe that’s where the writers of Back to the Future got their idea for the video chat on which future Marty got fired.
4. Cell Phones & Smartphones
Star Trek was ahead of its time in endless ways. But their foresight of cell phone technology back in the 1970s, when such a thing didn’t even exist for everyday folks, is probably the most remarkable, considering that cell phones are one of the most important and readily used modern inventions. Kirk’s famous hands-free device helped connect him with people throughout the galaxy and beyond. Since Kirk could call galaxies far, far away, maybe our service providers could take a few notes from the show and figure out how to keep calls from dropping while driving through a tunnel.
3. Touch Screen Interface
In a world that was once completely controlled by buttons, the idea of touch screen interfacing was remarkably sophisticated and seriously advanced. But many books and stories made mention to advanced technology on which you could simply touch the screen. Star Trek, however, is probably the most notable – albeit for the fact that viewers got to see the fleet of the Starship Enterprise taking their computers on the go with them first hand, over the course of hundreds of episodes. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also made mention to a digital database with a touchscreen interface. Back to the Future showcased an iPad-like device on which Marty could sign and swipe a card to help save the clock tower. And, probably the most advanced, Minority Report showed Tom Cruise using the open air in front of him as the interface, which was controlled by the use of waving his hands.
2. 3D Printing
Who hasn’t been in a position in which they wished they could just magically print something they needed, like a new tire on the side of the road when yours has a flat? While we don’t necessarily have the ability to print whatever we want just yet, 3D printing technology has advanced rapidly over the past decade and shows no signs of slowing. Again, Star Trek was a pioneer in predicting this technology. Members of the Starship Enterprise called them “replicators.” Viewers of the popular science fiction show always envisioned these as unachievable as getting beamed up.
1. Big Brother Is Watching
In what is probably the most unfortunate story to foreshadow the future, George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984 speaks of a state of society that is perpetually monitored by an interconnected surveillance system. At the time it was published in 1949, the concept seemed invasive, absurd and the sort of thing that conspiracy theory nuts think up. But, take a look around today at the number of video cameras, satellites, GPS trackers and cookies on our computer. Hell, just read the fine print on your Facebook terms of service and see if you still think that the concept is absurd. After all of the headlines hitting the progress of NSA security and surveillance practices going on post-9/11, the coincidences are impossible to ignore. But if you’re still unconvinced, just consider the fact that there are an estimated four million video cameras in the U.K. alone.