Novel, short story, TV, Movies. Take your pick. Going for over-all accuracy but good examples of single pick of “wow, that happened” are welcome as well. I have my own pick but will wait for a few others to go first.
“A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster - from the 1940s, predicts an Internet like system - complete with the problem of keeping porn away from children.
It’s recent and not much sci-fi, but the plot of the 1997 Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” revolves around an evil multimedia conglomerate bushiness-man’s scheme to support a coup in the People’s Republic of China, and as a reward his network will receive exclusive broadcast rights in China for 100 years and earn trillions of dollars for themselves.
With how much Hollywood is tripping over themselves to appease China, it seems incredibly believable now.
The Machine Stops
I fear this is the answer
I’ll go all the way back to Jules Verne. In 1969, Neil Armstrong noted, “ A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship, Columbia, took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon. It seems appropriate to us to share with you some of the reflections of the crew as the modern-day Columbia completes its rendezvous with the planet Earth and the same Pacific Ocean tomorrow." Verne’s crew in From the Earth to the Moon also consisted of three astronauts.
Dick Tracy actually predicted the fax machine decades before it was invented. They called it a “Telephoto machine.” They placed a suspect’s photo on a mat, covered it with a big camera box, and sent the image over a phone line. They also had the “Two-way wrist radio” which predicted the Apple Watch. No flying cylinder cars yet though.
That’s interesting – I never heard of it before – but the fax machine actually predates the telephone. There were several iterations of it in the 19th century:
Others have mentioned my favorite examples – Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” and Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon”. Life magazine actually ran an article comparing Verne’s moonshot to the one then going on in 1969. The similarities run deep. Besides the ones Elmer mentions, the Columbia was about the same size overall as the Command Module with its propulsion unit and both were made of aluminum. Also, Verne gave us, if not the count-down, the count-up, going from 1 to 10, with blast-off at 10 (Fritz Lang seems to have given us the first count-down to zero for a rocket launch in his film Die Frau im Mond)
Robert Heinlein gets a mention for the casual way he portrayed the evolution of telephones. In the movie Project Moonbase (1953 – he wrote the screenplay) people use telephones with a deskset and a handpiece unconnected by a cord – both the deskpiece and the handset have little antennae, just like the ones that started appearing in the late 1970s. Nothing is made of this in the movie – it isn’t explicitly pointed out by anyone. It’s just part of the futuristic ambience, and I’ll bet a lot of people missed it. But it very nicely demonstrates how the future differs from the then-present.
In several novels, like Space Cadet(1948) his characters casually speak of their personal phones i such a way that it is clear that the phone is a simple portable unit, maybe like a tiny walkie-talkie (they aren’t described). As someone on this Board once pointed out, Heinlein had even extrapolated the associated behavior – one character deliberately packs his phone away so he won’t have to answer calls.
Heinlein acted as if he was not impressed with this extrapolation of his, calling it a “parlor trick”. One can see what he’s getting at – much of the technology for the evolution of the telephone already existed, or could be easily extrapolated (the technique for miniaturizing circuitry didn’t exist when he wrote these – a real portable phone would have been a huge clunking box – but he could imagine it. These developments were easily predictable variations on exiisting technology and ideas. The REAL extrapolation came in predicting non-obvious ideas and scientific revolutions
It’s interesting you mention that, because even as a kid when the Dick Tracy movie came out (1990?) a wristwatch radio absolutely seemed like that something that probably already existed but just wasn’t affordable/available to anyone who didn’t work for MI6 or the CIA.
In a similar vein, the actual Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy device from the eponymous radio series, books, TV series and movie is almost literally a cross between an Amazon Kindle and an iPad with a wireless internet connection and the Wikipedia app.
How prophetic it is is another matter, however - an argument could be made that the device idea was one of those things whose eventual invention could reasonably be foreseen based on projected continuing development of available technology, even if it wasn’t feasible at the time the story was written.
On the “It hasn’t happened yet but I’m sure it will” side of the coin, I’ve always thought Alien was probably the most prophetic in what interstellar travel will look like when it eventually happens - less gleaming white sleek lines and service robots and giant windows with an impressive view of the majesty of space, and more utilitarian “tramp industrial/mining cargo freighter but with space suits instead of life jackets”.
Admittedly the Millennium Falcon from a certain 1977 film had a similar aesthetic but that was arguably to emphasise the seat-of-your pants, devil-may-care, somewhat shady approach to life and business of its pilot(s) rather than a “this is what long-distance space travel as a job will probably look like in the future” choice.
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. Written in 1968, it’s about the world of 2010. The population is seven billion, the Soviet Union is defunct and China is a rising power. Genetics and computer technology are undergoing rapid advances (although he mostly missed the internet in this one). America is plagued by random spree killers.
Video calls and VoIP services
Vehicles with ‘Robot-brains’
Satellites in geostationary orbit
“A Logic Named Joe” was actually my pic as well. Predicting the internet before the term “computer” was in wide usage is like reading the writing on the wall before anybody else even sees the wall.
Also called a “Clarke Orbit”. Arthur C. Clarke is usually given credit for this prediction, but I don’t think it was done in a Science Fiction story, so maybe that’s why Asimov gets the nod in this thread.
My first brush with “A Logic Named Joe” was listening to an old radio dramatization while delivering pizza in the early Eighties. I can’t remember being particularly impressed with its plausibility at the time. Boy, was I wrong.
One could argue that H.G. wells proposed the idea even earlier in his “World Brain” essays, although these were not among his science fiction works. and he didn’t envision an apparatus to enact the idea. Writers like Arthur C. Clarke suggested doing it with computers, which brings it a lot closer to the Internet.
What’s quaint about “A Logic Named Joe” is that Leinster imagined it with “Censor circuits”, and that all the awful things that people started doing that resembles the modern internet – kids downloading pornography, people sending information on how to break into bank vaults, etc.,-- only happen when a faulty unit lacks the censors.
Weels is responsible for a few other modern ideas, too.
Tanks – wells wrote about the utility of armored war vehicles with non-wheel traction in The Land Ironclads – although he didn’t have them using “caterpillar treads”, but the muxch clunkier “Pedrail Wheels”
Atomic Bombs – Wells actually used the term in The World Set Free. He didn’t write about something using chain reactions, but a much slower-moving sort of atomic fire as envisioned by physicist Frederick Soddy. Still, the novel inspired physicist Leo Szilard, weho saw its potential amnd who DID envision the chain reaction, so wells’ speculation lead very directly to the real atomic bomb.
A far better prediction (though progress has made the device obsolete) is his prediction of the pocket calculator in “The Feeling of Power.”
Correct. Wireless World, 1945:
No question that “A Logic Named Joe” contains the best, more accurate, extrapolation. It isn’t the greatest story in the world, but one that every deep fan should read.
Fritz Leiber’s phantasmagoric “The Creature from Cleveland Depths,” Galaxy, Dec. 1962, does something similar with smartphones, having them literally attached to bodies and basing culture around them.
A story that even core fans have never heard of is the best Campbellian future America story that never appeared in Astounding. “The Paradise Crater” instead appeared in the high-end fiction pulp magazine Blue Book in October 1945.
Philip Wylie was the most famous living American science fiction writer, with no real competition. He and Edwin Palmer had written When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide in 1932 and 1934, two huge successes that were virtually the only sf novels published by a mainstream publisher in the 1930s. He also wrote Gladiator, the major inspiration for Superman, and The Savage Gentleman, the inspiration for Doc Savage. But he never once wrote for a f&sf magazine, so the fans neglect him.
“The Paradise Crater” is set in 1965. I’m going to quote me, because the best account is mine from The New York Review of Science Fiction.
“The Paradise Crater” is the longest story in the October 1945 Blue Book . Although its pulp origins are easily spotted in the hero’s fist fights, derring-do, and instant romance with a secretary who, like him, happens to possess a PhD in chemistry, the story is perhaps the most perfect example of the Campbellian dictum for science fiction in the 1940s later paraphrased as “stories which could be run in an adventure magazine of the future.” The atomic core of “The Paradise Crater” is surrounded with tidbits about a technologized future as airy and numerous as packing peanuts. Healthy diet and plastic surgery make every American beautiful. Personal helicopters allow for routine travel from Death Valley to Los Angeles for dinner. During the trip, “a rectangle on the instrument panel” issues television news. A mechanical waiter robot rolls up to a table to take orders. Repellers make auto collisions impossible on the ten-lane Lincoln Highway. Fairbanks is a domed city. Miami, a city of three million, uses collecting mirrors to soak up solar power for night-time lighting. Moving sidewalks whisk people around town. Frozen steak is cooked in fifteen minutes by an induction broiler. Indirect fluorescent lighting changes women’s dress colors as they walk by. Men wear shorts all day long. Radiated seeds create hundreds of new fruits and vegetables. Tidal engines generate power, deep-sea heat vents produce steam for turbines, energy is broadcast over radio beams, a new type of electric battery would soon run a car for a week. And a Nazi sleeper cell has stockpiled “hundreds and hundreds” of atomic bombs in a cave in Wyoming.
Yeah, yeah, defeated Nazis and atomic bombs. Pulp trash. Except that the story was submitted long before the revelation of Hiroshima. The government suppressed it, the only atomic bomb fiction that received that treatment, and Blue Blook had to wait until the first possible moment after the war to run it.
The problem is that you can’t read the story. It’s never been reprinted anywhere to my knowledge. Unless you buy a used copy of the original pulp, it’s lost to history. A single page and an illustration can be seen here, though.