Lightspeed travel and cryo-pods may still be a thing of the future, but jets, bullet trains and smartphones are very much a reality. Anyone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of sci-fi lore need only to look around for multiple examples of how the fiction of yesterday has impacted our modern world. From long-distance communication and hi-tech cars to flight and out-of-this world travel, here are some of the major ways we can see the imagination of science fiction come to life in the real world.
Two of the most obvious places where sci-fi clearly predicts the future are space and undersea travel.
“One of the first things that comes mind is the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ which was shot before the lunar landing, although I doubt that NASA scientists were looking over their shoulders to see how the film was doing things to inform their work,” says Lonnie MF Allen, author of the forthcoming graphic novel “Chrome Seoul.” “‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’ of course, conceived of submarines before they were created.”
“Most of the astronauts today will say that they were inspired by ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars,’” shares Andy Mangels, a sci-fi critic and USA Today best-selling author well known for his “Star Trek” novels. “Most scientists today and most inventors of technology were inspired by comic books, video games and science fiction. So, if we’re talking about what’s going to happen in travel in the future, I think it will definitely be impacted by the sci-fi we are seeing today.”
In addition to suggesting types of travel and exploration, sci-fi often predicts future discoveries. “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne also predicted — or at least seems to have inspired—the use of lunar modules to explore the moon. Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels” correctly predicted that Mars has two moons, to boot.
Practical travel often mirrors science fiction, as well. Many modes of transportation that we take for granted such as cars, trains and planes were once the stuff of fiction, and much of the latest advances in technology were predicted in some capacity by sci-fi films and books.
“Sci-fi continues to focus on travel; with the advent of self-driving cars, we’re seeing a step toward a world that resembles the ‘futuristic’ world about which past generations paid to watch films” explains Yves Navant, graphic artist and author of the graphic novel “13: The Astonishing Lives of the Neuromantics.” “I believe we’ll attempt to pioneer faster modes of travel, perhaps orbital transportation. We’ve been waiting 70 years for flying cars and teleportation. Our world is living proof that if mankind wants something badly enough and dreams about if hard enough, we will achieve it.”
“I don’t know when we’re going to have a flying car, but we’re now in the realm of self-driving cars,” Mangels adds. “We even have transparent steel now, and prototypes for transparent airplanes, so you can’t even say Wonder Woman’s invisible plane is a fantasy. Now they can actually do that.”
“I think right now, we’re seeing lot of ideas surrounding automated vehicles,” says Allen. “I imagine that to be more ubiquitous in the future. This would not have been something most people would have guessed a decade ago, as many experts talked about how much people loved their cars and car culture. People giving up their personal ownership of vehicles seemed unlikely. From a public policy standpoint, I think the government would be more likely to help that along, because it’s less costly than the infrastructure cost of railways for public transit.”
Eyes on an Ethical Future
Increasingly, science fiction tends to portent dark, dystopian messages about things mankind should avoid in the future. But even within these stories, and in stories that have a more hopeful eye to the skies, there are a lot of hints about how we can make travel sustainable and brighten our future.
“The idea of the proliferation of electric cars, I’m certain, resulted from thinking about how fossil fuels were a finite resource while electricity could be generated renewably, and that was known to be true to those paying attention in 1969,” Allen says. “I also think using sci-fi ethically involves creators showing a future of diversity, particularly ones that demonstrate technologies created by other cultures like in ‘Binti’ by Nnedi Okorafor or ‘Black Panther’ which will inspire more diversity into fields of science.”
From flying cars to faster communication and devices that streamline travel, science fiction has been a great predictor so far of what the world of travel can offer in the future. If this indicator moves into the future, we could be seeing lightspeed space jumps and teleportation sometimes in the not so far distance. Of course, every new technology comes with its own challenges, and some are more feasible than others. That said, following the narratives of science fiction and looking to the future of travel presents some exciting possibilities.