How Sci-Fi Changed Technology

August 8, 2013

A massive part of our lives here at The Hosting Folks is technology.  Almost everything we do revolves around the latest technology, and we’re now in an age where more people are online using more devices than ever before. There is no doubting the profound effect that science-fiction writers have had on inventors and technology. Jules Verne predicted that man would land on the moon over a century before it happened whilst H.G. Wells was talking about mobile phones in the 1930s.

Hover-cars, robots and time-travel have all been promised to us by film and TV, but whilst we wait for them, here are the things that classic sci-fi did foresee:

2001: A Space Odyssey – tablets

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film about space exploration gave us many things: A now overused theme tune, primitive apes hitting things with bones, and the IPad.

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“We’re watching the same thing! LOL!”

In the film, the astronauts used these devices to look at newspapers, live broadcasts and other things. More astounding though, is how the design is so close to a 2012 IPad or tablet

In fact, Samsung used the film as evidence in 2011 that Apple did not invent the device during a row over patency. That debate aside, the prediction is impressive considering how similar these look to modern day tablets. 2001 also featured video phones which the astronauts used to contact earth, sadly they didn’t have Angry Birds though.

Total Recall (1990) – full body scanners (at the airport)

As Arnie attempted to reach Mars in pursuit of his memories in Total Recall, he encountered some obstacles that were both deadly and hilarious. But there is one scene which can be related to today’s world – airport security.

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Not the picture from Total Recall you were hoping to see, right?

In the scene, the characters pass through a security area at a space-port and are checked by a full body X-ray scanner, not too far away from some of the ones currently in use at some of the world’s airports.

Whilst there are some major differences, it is the idea of where we might see this kind of technology that the film got spot on.

Total Recall was another sci-fi film that featured video calling, as Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside had their fair share of Skype moments.

Star Trek – smartphones (and everything that goes with them)          

Star Trek can be accredited with literally dozens of inspirational ideas: voice activated computers, incapacitation devices (stun-guns), cloaking devices, the list goes on.

But perhaps the most famous and well used gadget in the 1960s TV phenomenon was the Tricorder.

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“Excuse me, could you take a picture of me and my friends on our visit to Universal Studios?”

These things were used to record data about strange new worlds that non-descript characters would eventually need rescuing from by Kirk, Spock and Bones. Ok, smartphones haven’t learned how to detect the stability of the atmosphere quite yet, but the Tricorder enabled the characters to get valuable information from the world around them – not unlike the apps we can download to our current phones. Characters in the show couldn’t talk to each other with the Tricorder, they used Communicators (old Motorola StarTacs) for that, but surely it was only a matter of time before Starfleet combined the two gadgets in a cost cutting drive.

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Insert Klingon joke here

If you need any more evidence that these two gadgets were early smartphones, the fact that everyone in the show had one and they all made annoying noises is probably enough.

Star Trek featured a myriad other devices that can be compared to modern day tech, including massive use of touchscreen on board the Enterprise and portable data storage blocks similar to USB flash drives. We also see devices that resemble IPads in the medical bay.

Back to the Future Part 2 – motion sensitive gaming           

Whilst we don’t actually see any in the film, motion sensitive gaming is mooted during Marty McFly’s adventure into a terrifying vision of the year 2015, where 3D sharks attack you on the street and gangs of youths hover around on floating skateboards.

As Marty becomes increasingly frightened by this new world, he is temporarily comforted by an antique arcade game which he excels at in his 1985 home. It is here that we are given our insight into the future of gaming.

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Yes, that is Elijah Wood in the middle

After Marty is finished acing the game, the young kids seem unimpressed. Marty, astonished at the boys’ underwhelming reaction, asks them why they are not now worshipping him following his gaming prowess, to which he gets the insolent response: “You gotta use your hands!? It’s like a baby’s toy!”

Now, just 3 years before Marty’s 2015 adventure , motion sensitive gaming is all the rage with PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo all having released their own versions of the technology. This is probably not such an amazing prediction, given that video games were always likely to embrace new ways to entertain us, but the fact that it is almost a throw-away comment during the film suggests that the writers were in tune with the games industry enough to think realistically about where it would be in the future.

Other scenes in the film give us a first glimpse of interactive television where several channels could be viewed simultaneously and catch-up TV appears to be available as Marty spies on his future self, slumming it in his 2015 Hill Valley home.

Fahrenheit 451 – social media

Based on the 1951 Ray Bradbury novel, 1966’s Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future where books, amongst other things, are seen as detrimental to society and are therefore outlawed.

Oskar Werner’s fire-fighter character “Guy Montag” is tasked by the government with burning every book he sees. Montag, who at first complies without question, gets a crisis of conscience as he falls in love with bibliophile Clarisse, and soon starts to neglect his duties by reading the very books he is supposed to be destroying. That aside, it is slightly ironic that they choose a fire-fighter to go around setting things alight all day.

Whilst we are now very familiar with this kind of plotline (Equilibrium to name but one), at the time it was considered a smart bit of social commentary and Bradbury is generally lauded as one of sci-fi’s great authors. One of the most relatable aspects of the film (and novel) however, is the mention of humans communicating digitally through “the wall”.

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“I don’t care what you say; this is much more fun than putting them out all day”

“The wall” allowed the populace of the film to chat to each other via digital messages, probably saying things like, “Hey, have you noticed how many fires we have seen recently?”

Facebook and Twitter are now considered major forms of communication and whilst Bradbury was probably making the point that people would go off reading books altogether, he predicted that digital technology would one-day play a major part in human communication. The idea of “the wall”can also be compared to email as a replacement for other types of communication such as letters, face to face meetings and the traditional telephone.

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy – the internet, search engines and Wikipedia

Whilst the 2005 film received some fierce criticism, the TV and radio series from the 1970s were both huge successes.

Douglas Adams’ mix of science-fiction, comedy and “British-ness” told us that the meaning of life was 42, robots could be depressed, and that one day everyone would be able to know everything about the galaxy at the touch of a button.

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“When I said it was no dress code, I didn’t think you would show up in that. Honestly, stripes with cheque?”

Granted, what makes the guide from the show so amazing is that the device contains unfathomable amounts of information and it can be carried around in someone’s pocket for quick reference, but surely the guide would need to be asked a question first. With so much information available via Wikipedia and Google now, certain comparisons can be drawn between the hitchhiker’s guide and internet resources like this. Is it so different from accessing Google from your mobile to find out who did the voice for Penfold in Dangermouse?

Ask the guide a question, and it told you; ask Google a question, and it directs you to Wikipedia usually. Does that mean that the hitchhikers guide was actually better than Google? Yes.