Art imitates life—or is it the other way around? Either way, there’s no denying how much influence the media we consume can have over the world that we inhabit. No genre better exhibits this complex relationship between imagination and reality than science fiction.
Whether working in film, television or literature, science fiction writers use their chosen medium to try and anticipate the triumphs and terrors of humanity’s future. In doing so, however, they’ve often wound up predicting or even shaping the future in unexpected ways. What follows are a few of the most notable examples of science fiction becoming science fact.
1. “Dial F for Frankenstein”by Arthur C. Clarke
Few sci-fi authors deserve as much credit for predicting advances in digital technology as Arthur C. Clarke, whose manuscript, “The Space Station: Its Radio Applications,”first proposed using space stations to broadcast television signals in 1945. Later, his 1961 short story, “Dial F for Frankenstein,”imagined a vast, interconnected telephone network that comes to dominate the world’s financial and military infrastructures. It was later cited as an inspiration by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the chief inventor of the World Wide Web.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
For all his scientific contributions, Clarke is still likely best known for co-authoring the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as its companion novel. Both the film and book uncannily predicted one of the 21stcentury’s most ubiquitous pieces of technology—the iPad. Clarke’s version was dubbed the “Newspad,” and the film’s astronauts are shown in one scene browsing headlines on the sleek, rectangular device.
3. The World Set Freeby HG Wells
Published in 1914, The World Set Free found author H.G. Wells imagining a weapon of inconceivable destructive powers, harnessed from the atomic decay of radioactive elements. Wells’ early conception of atomic bombs differed in many ways from those later developed and dropped over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but his vision of an atomic chain reaction directly inspired physicist Leo Szilard, who read the novel in 1932—two years before he patented the nuclear reactor, and seven before he embarked on work for the Manhattan Project.
4. Stand on Zanzibarby John Brunner
Originally published in 1968, Stand on Zanzibaris set in the year 2010 and gets a remarkable amount right about modern American culture. The nation is depicted as plagued by destabilizing terrorist attacks and violence in schools, while homosexuality has entered the mainstream, marijuana is decriminalized and prices have increased sixfold due to inflation (they actually increased sevenfold). Other eerily prescient elements from the novel include the widespread use of electric vehicles, China rising to become the U.S.’s greatest global rival, and a popular political leader named President Obomi.
5. Gattaca (1997)
Cited by NASA as the most accurate science fiction film of all time, Gattacadepicts a not-too-distant future in which genetically-engineered designer babies have become the norm, resulting in genetic discrimination and an even more entrenched form of inequality. In this case, science only now seems to be catching up to the film’s predictions, as a new technique called CRISPR is now being developed to help edit out ‘undesirable’ genes in human embryos.