Much of the cool tech we use today was dreamed up in the 1950s—but it goes beyond that, even as far back as the 1880s! From virtual reality to artificial intelligence, here are 10 cool tech inventions we already know and love—all of which were predicted by some of our favorite and beloved sci-fi films, TV shows, and novels.
1. Credit cards
Back in 1888, do you think anyone could have imagined the technology used in today’s world? Well, Edward Bellamy did—he correctly predicted the arrival of the credit card. In his novel Looking Backward, Bellamy envisioned the use of universal credit to purchase goods and services without cash. Today, consumers everywhere use not just credit cards but digital wallets and other cashless forms of payment to buy everything from a cup of coffee to a shiny new laptop.
Speaking of novels, you can now read one on a tablet—and store hundreds more to read later. This was famously predicted in Star Trek, where PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices) provided Starfleet officers with convenient handheld tablet computers that could display any information needed on demand. You can see PADDs in action in many of the franchise’s films, like Star Trek: First Contact, and a variety of other movies that predicted the future we now live in, showing how tablets would become a standard feature of workplace life and beyond.
Whether you’re rocking out to some sick beats or just basking in calming tunes while working, chances are you’re wearing headphones while you do it. Did you know that Ray Bradbury imagined this in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451? Headphones existed at the time, but they were clunky and cumbersome. Back in mid-century America, though, Bradbury dreamed of “little seashells” and “thimble radios,” reminiscent of today’s earbuds and headphones.
Don’t you wish you could just press a button and have your favorite beverage magically appear? The characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did just this, ordering up a raktajino for an afternoon java jolt while at work. Now, thanks to 3D printing, you can print out a huge variety of items on demand: 3D-printed food, 3D-printed cars, and even 3D-printed offices! While the technology isn’t quite replicator-grade yet (a nerd can dream), it’s getting smarter and more innovative all the time.
5. Big Brother
Science fiction media often grapples with the idea of Big Brother—but none does so more famously than George Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell’s dystopian vision predicted a world in which cameras were everywhere, monitoring our every move. This idea showed up in countless sci-fi novels and movies afterward, including the 2017 film The Circle. For the privacy-inclined, 1984 is a cautionary tale about the dangers of the surveillance state. Geeks, of course, associate 1984 with the famous Apple commercial that aired the same year.
6. Video calls
These days, you can chat face to face with anyone whenever you want, thanks to video calling over the internet. But it wasn’t always this way: Once upon a time, you needed to talk to people on the phone instead. Horrifying, right? Early sci-fi films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, presented a glimpse of a future in which video calling—even from space—is as simple a matter as picking up the telephone.
7. Wireless gadgets
Back in 1964, technology was in a much different place. Computers took up entire rooms and all our technology used cords, which meant the mobile future was a long way away. Even then, though, Isaac Asimov predicted in his essay “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014” that by 2014, you could freely use cordless appliances “powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes.” That pretty much checks out—except for the bit about nuclear energy. We’re definitely living in a wireless, mobile world today.
8. Virtual reality
Although it’s still in its early stages, virtual reality is most definitely here. Futurists were toying with the idea as far back as the 1950s, immediately raising the question of which reality we’d want to spend time in more—the real world or the VR realms that beckon. Ray Bradbury experimented with these themes in his story “The Veldt,” in which two parents lose their children to a fully automated virtual nursery. William Gibson explored the sensory experience of digital worlds in his monumentally influential novel Neuromancer. VR also prominently appears in films, like Johnny Mnemonic; TV shows, like Caprica; and, of course, on Star Trek‘s holodeck.
9. Artificial intelligence
Chatbots were all the rage in 2017, and tech observers freaked out when Facebook shut down two bots that started speaking to each other using shorthand lingo humans can’t understand. We haven’t quite welcomed our AI overlords yet, but they do appear in sci-fi films, like 2001, when HAL 9000 ominously intones, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Dystopian AI also wreaks catastrophe in The Terminator (the dreaded Skynet!), but it plays a more empathetic role in the recent film Marjorie Prime.
10. Flying cars
Flying cars aren’t whizzing around our metropolises yet, but they’re closer than you think. According to The Verge, Uber and NASA plan to roll out flying cars above the skies of Los Angeles by 2020. This resembles the future depicted in The Fifth Element, in which aerial cabbie Korben Dallas accidentally catches a fare that will save humanity from certain doom. Before long, you could be hailing a flying taxi to make it to that meeting across town in time.
The future is already here—and it’s exciting to imagine what new tech inventions will appear on the horizon soon. For a glimpse at what’s coming next, you might want to check out a good sci-fi novel or movie—their predictions have been prescient so far.