Before an inventor sits down to contemplate the engineering of a new invention and blueprint the mechanics, he or she must first have the idea. The inventor must have the vision of what he wants to create.
But where do such ideas come from?
Often, the idea may come from a need of some sort, i.e., a solution to an existing problem. For example, Émile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau wanted to breathe underwater, so they invented the first scuba set as a solution. But other times, the idea may come from a less pragmatic source – the imagination.
The ideas of science fiction fall under this imaginary realm. Science fiction doesn’t serve any direct purpose, other than entertainment, yet science fiction authors first imagined numerous inventions that prove so vital in today’s society. While science fiction’s inventions do not contain actual blueprints or instructions for constructing their novel ideas, they do present the ideas, which in turn inspire other inventors to manifest the author’s speculations.
Science fiction’s role in society is to entertain and inspire. Here are 8 inventions inspired by science fiction that changed our world forever.
Jules Verne is often referred to as the “father of science fiction.” Given the breadth of Verne’s work, this list could easily only focus on the inventions derived from his work. His most famous novels include: Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Verne imagined a great underwater ship called the Nautilus, led by Captain Nemo. The submarine was powered by electricity and contained a grand ballroom and organ.
Verne’s vision of the Nautilus was so concrete that he inspired a lifelong interest of undersea exploration in the American inventor, Simon Lake. Lake first read Verne’s work as a boy, which inspired him to invent his own submarine called the Argonaut. In 1898, Verne wrote Lake a letter of congratulations on his invention, which made Lake ecstatic.
The original Star Trek series, although cancelled after only three seasons, lived a long life in re-runs, inspiring a generation of kids and adults. One of the most famous Star Trek gadgets was the “communicator,” which was a wireless phone that looks strikingly similar to many of today’s cell phones.
Martin Cooper, who oversaw the invention of the first mobile phone in the 70’s, has directly credited the Star Trek communicator for inspiring his vision.
In 1920, Czech author Karel Capek, predicted the existence of sentient robots in his play R.U.R, or Rossum’s Universal Robots.
In Capek’s play, the classic sci-fi tale of artificial intelligence unfurls. The robots are first used as free, slave labor. But eventually, they gain sentience and rise up, fighting back against their human creators.
Given recent developments with Google’s Deep Mind, which has been demonstrating an understanding of betrayal, we may not be too far off from our own robot uprising.
Tom Swift was the protagonist in a series of science-fiction books written for children in the early 1900’s. The series was influential to a generation of science-minded folk including Steve Wozniak and Isaac Asimov.
The character Tom Swift made use of a stun gun in the series. When Jack Clover, a NASA physicist invented the Taser, he named it so because of his love for the series. Taser is actually an acronym meaning, “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”
Numerous ghostwriters working under the pseudonym “Victor Appleton” authored the series.
After attending the 1964 Worlds Fair, the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov penned an article for the New York Times imagining what inventions would be on display at the World’s Fair in fifty years.
In his essay, he hypothesized “robot-brain” cars, capable of self-driving. Fifty some years later in 2017, Asimov’s prediction is eerily on point.
Major global companies such as Google, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, and Apple are all working towards becoming the first to sell self-driving vehicles to the public.
Yup, another invention from the great Star Trek writers. In the original series, the Enterprise contained a tool called the replicator. This device is essentially a 3-D printer capable of creating meals on demand and many other objects.
While the 3-D printer has yet to become a household item, it has evolved from the realm of dreams to a reality.
In 1983, Chuck Hull invented a 3-D printer that uses photopolymers and ultraviolet light to create any object you can imagine.
So far 3-D printers have been used to create everything from working guns to shoes to meat – that’s right, meat!
In Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, he presented a dystopian world where books are outlawed and destroyed by “fireman” in the society.
Bradbury also presents a world where people are zonked out and distracted by technology, from flat screen TVs to Seashell radio, which he describes as “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk, coming in on the shore of [your] unsleeping mind.”
Bradbury also describes how the Seashell radio device is tucked cozily inside the ear. It’s clear he was on to something here, as nearly every person at the gym, on the bus, or jogging on the street sports a pair of ear bud headphones.
Ah yes, H.G. Wells once again. This time, it’s not a gadget Wells inspired but atomic power.
Wells first broached the idea of atomic power in his 1913 novel, The World Set Free. His vision inspired scientist Leo Szilard, twenty years later, to create a nuclear reaction, which led to the atom bomb.
While Wells definitely envisioned a greater use for atomic power than a bomb, it’s still a testament to his foresight and imagination.
We hope this list of inventions inspired by science fiction inspires you to create your own novel ideas and inventions. Good luck!