When it comes to innovative new technologies, look no further for inspiration than good-old classic science-fiction and pop culture. You might be surprised by how many concepts first seen in works of fiction have made their way into our day-to-day lives. Let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy examples.
Mobile phones are commonplace nowadays, as are the wearables that connect to them. These technologies first appeared in the 1930s and 1940s serialized comic Dick Tracy, in which the series’ namesake detective uses a watch as a two-way communicator to work with the authorities.
There is a modern myth about the USS Enterprise inspiring the idea of the modern cell phone, but the creator of the first mobile phone, Martin Cooper, corrected himself, citing Dick Tracy as the primary source of his inspiration.
The replicators used in Star Trek are remarkably reminiscent of the modern 3D printer. While modern 3D printers build materials out of a computed pattern to create an item, the ones in Star Trek used rays of light to shape their objects. One such device does exist, and the creators of this 2019 device cite Star Trek as the clear inspiration for its creation.
Remember when the iPad first burst onto the scene in 2010? The device itself was inspired by the PADD from Star Trek, the Personal Access Display Device. It was a handheld device used by the Starfleet crew to access various types of information, just like the modern tablet.
And let’s not forget the device that blocked Apple’s attempted copyright of their tablet’s form factor, the device appearing in Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks to the existence of this film, Apple’s attempt failed.
Douglas Quaid, the main character of 1990’s Total Recall, used an automated taxi cab to run from his pursuers. Though the device had to be manually taken over eventually, the idea for self-driving vehicles was certainly present here.
MP3 files might not be as popular as they were a decade ago thanks to music streaming services, but when they first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, you can bet people were inspired to make them a reality. The inventor of the MP3 file format, Karlheinz Brandenburg, cites a particular scene as giving him the idea. The scene in question is when an android named Data listens to four tracks written by four composers, then slowly turns off each track in succession.
In chapter five of her 1818 work—which many see to be the first piece of modern science fiction—Mary Shelley includes little detail about her fictional scientist’s process, but includes a telling quote in the fifth chapter:
“With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.“
Is this “spark” a spark of electricity? Who can say? In either case, it may have served as inspiration to create the modern defibrillator, a device which first appeared in 1930.
What other examples can you think of that might have been influenced by science fiction? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the author
Michael is the CTO at Aniar IT Services and has been working in IT for over 20 years.
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