Science fiction involves stories that explore a possible future to tell an important truth to the present. However, many readers also love sci-fi for its ability to inspire real-life changes in science. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most astonishing sci-fi inventions that became a reality.
In the 1872 novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler smart technology that can learn and self-replicate is described. The book itself is a satire of Victorian society, based on Butler’s unique perspective, having grown up in New Zealand.
The book’s third section, “The Book of the Machines,” describes what modern audiences would understand as a type of learning intelligence, inspired by the ideas of Charles Darwin and the quickening pace of industrialization. Characters in the fictional country of Erewhon have outlawed such learning machines, understanding that they could supplant humanity if they were allowed to grow and evolve naturally.
In the bone-chilling 1818 novel Frankenstein, author Mary Shelley describes Dr. Frankenstein’s attempts at reanimated the flesh of the departed. He uses galvanism, harnessing the power of electricity to stimulate the muscles of the corpses. Such technology is used for unthinkable horrors by Frankenstein, who seeks to give a corpse a grim facsimile of life by harnessing the power of an electrical storm. This turned out to be a prophetic bit of science fiction writing: in 1947, the first real-world defibrillator was used under a similar principle.
Dr. Claude Beck, thinking quickly, used a quickly-rigged defibrillator to save the life of a patient whose heart had stopped. Thankfully, Beck’s use of the technology was significantly less horrifying than Frankenstein’s. Now the technology is a common part of any doctor’s repertoire for treating patients who have had their hearts stop.
Ray Bradbury’s landmark novel Fahrenheit 451 is known for its grimy sense of place, its scathing parody of modern society, and its tight, gripping prose. The 1953 novel included one piece of technology that modern audiences would recognize immediately: in the book, they’re called “thimble radios,” and they’re described as pocket-sized audio devices that can deliver an “ocean” of sound with the press of a button.
The very next year, the first mass-market portable radio would hit store shelves, marketed by Texas Instruments. The device even included a single earphone, not dissimilar from the “thimble” described by Bradbury. Today, such a piece of technology could be seen even more directly in wireless earbuds like the Apple AirPods or Samsung Galaxy Buds.