Tech We Took From Science Fiction

Even though we’re still waiting for flying cars, we’re already living in the future predicted by science fiction. Here are a few tech prophecies from sci-fi films, books, and TV shows that became reality.

Tech We Took From Science Fiction

Nothing quite matches the childlike sense of wonder you get from reading PCWorld, except for maybe the feelings you get from watching “the future” in a good science fiction movie. Before you break out your credit card for the next Apple gizmo, take a stroll down memory lane and see if it doesn't make your existing tech seem a little more wondrous...after all, it's from the future!

2001: A Space Odyssey / Watson

Perhaps the most infamous example of artificial intelligence is HAL 9000, the antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A HAL 9000 may not exist quite yet, but we do have IBM’s Watson, which destroyed the best minds that humanity had to offer on Jeopardy. Watson even sounds a bit like HAL 9000. I’ll take “Robot Domination” for $1000, Alex.

Star Trek PADD / iPad

The Personal Access Display Device, or PADD, was found across the universe in Star Trek--a market penetration that Apple’s iPad can only hope to achieve. According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, PADDs are built with a “boronite whisker epoxy” that lets them survive drops of up to 35 feet without sustaining damage. Unfortunately, our own iPad didn’t do quite so well.

Image: Courtesy of Memory Alpha

Foundation / Wikipedia

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, the author writes about a mathematician named Hari Seldon who founds an academic field of study called “psychohistory,” which enables him to predict the future based on probability. When he predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire, he starts an organization devoted to chronicling the entire body of human knowledge into a volume called the Encyclopedia Galactica. Unlike Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Galactica allows only the galaxy’s best and brightest to edit items--but considering how hard it can be to edit Wikipedia in the first place, the two might not be that dissimilar after all. You heard it here first: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is preparing for the end of the United States.


The Matrix / World of Warcraft

In The Matrix, mankind is enslaved by machines in a virtual world that exists only to keep people too busy to rebel. Blizzard did one better and got mankind to pay $15 a month for the privilege. Result: Keanu is sad.

Snow Crash / Second Life

Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel Snow Crash takes place largely in the Internet, in a fully immersive virtual world called the Metaverse that’s an extension of real-life meatspace. Linden Labs built a Metaverse and called it Second Life, and people used it to sell virtual land for real money and have cybersex. Humanity, this is why we can’t have nice things.

The Jetsons / iRobot Roomba

We don’t have our own Rosie the Robot Maid yet, but we do have the iRobot Roomba. We expect Roomba sales to drop sharply once the devices are capable of telling you how much they hate cleaning up your mess.

Gattaca / Home Genetic-Testing Services

In the world of Gattaca, your individual human worth is determined solely by your genes, which are thought to determine the sum of your potential achievement in life. Real-life society hasn't gotten that far, but home genetic-testing services such as claim to offer you insights into genetic predispositions to disease, predicted drug reactions, and even more information about your ancestry. Fortunately, they’re not part of your standard job-application process--yet.

Minority Report / Gesture Controls

Blah blah precognition, blah blah Tom Cruise--what really got nerds going in Minority Report was the awesome gesture-driven computer user interface. Although holographic displays aren't yet the norm, the DepthJS project at MIT manages to merge the Microsoft Kinect with JavaScript to achieve Web-based gesture controls. You can also perform a few tweaks that will make your PC look like it came from Hollywood.