Back in the 1930s, cartoonist Chester Gould introduced the world to Dick Tracy, a private eye in a signature yellow duster and hat, who communicated with his top-secret contacts via wrist-watch. While yellow dusters are unlikely to become a hip new trend, the science fiction based “radio watch” may have just met its modern, real-world sibling. Meet the Samsung smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. While smartwatches have been around for a few years, they haven’t actually been very smart; the Galaxy Gear is the first watch to mimic the functionality of watch, phone, camera, and task manager. If you’ve been waiting for a video watch since catching episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, those cartoon versions may now be reality.
“The Galaxy Gear is both a control center for your phone and a health-tracking device, but it’s also much more,” wrote Will Oremus in “The Dick Tracy watch is real” for Slate.com on September 4, 2013. The device uses Bluetooth to connect to the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone. The smart technology in the watch will allow users to rely on the S Voice personal assistant (Samsung’s version of Apple’s Siri) to dictate text messages or get directions – which would have been a handy feature if Tracy had needed directions to Flattop’s lair.
But the Samsung smartwatch isn’t the only invention that science fiction or cartoons have predicted. Here are the top five devices you should know and the television or paper versions that anticipated them.
E-book readers and tablets
If you have a Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or other designated e-book reader, you’re living in a science fiction future. The predictions of digital libraries have been around science fiction for ages, including a notable example in Douglas Adams’s 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The novel describes how the same-titled book, which the protagonist uses to navigate the galaxy (to the best of his ability), requires the push of a button for the screen to light up and enable the user to tap the index.
While TASERs might not be allowed on campus – or even in some states – the non-lethal self-defense tool that causes electric shock to flow from the device into an attacker was based on a similar device from a series of children’s books. According to Mark Strauss, writing for Smithsonian on March 16, 2012 in “Ten inventions inspired by science fiction,” the NASA physicist who invented the TASER, Jack Cover, was a fan of the Tom Swift novels. Swift, a genius inventor, used a device called the “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle,” which provided the TASER with its acronym.
Google Glass and a Holodeck
While Google Glass won’t be released for public purchase until 2014, the glasses have been making the news. The idea of life being overlaid with a “heads up display” is reminiscent of the Virtual Reality glasses from the short-lived television program Earth 2, and a wealth of other science fiction shows.
Even better news for fans of virtual reality fiction: in 2012, Microsoft patented the Holodeck, a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a hope for gamers that one of these days, the whole living room will provide terrain for a first person shooter platform. Here we come, HALO 360! At least they didn’t patent X-Men’s “Danger Room”…
Back in 1964, SF great Isaac Asimov wrote an essay predicting what technology would look like in 2014. BuzzFeed staffers Charlie Warzel and John Herman summed up many of his ideas in their August 28, 2013 article, “Isaac Asimov’s 1964 predictions about 2014 are frighteningly accurate.” His correct predictions included:
- “[M]en will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better.” (Warzel and Herman helpfully supplied a photo of a modern household entertainment center.)
- “The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords.” While electronics still have to be charged, a cell phone would be useless if it had to be plugged in for every call.
- “[U]nmanned ships will have landed on Mars.”
- “Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth.”
But for devices, Asimov was particularly prescient in the kitchen. “Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heating water and converting it to coffee.” That might be a romantic way to describe a Keurig, but it’s not inaccurate. Even better, Asimov anticipated the freezer meals you find at the co-op when you’re in need of sticking something in the microwave for quick nutrition.
Going, going, gone
Captain Kirk might be surprised to find out that his oh-so-functional communicator from the original Star Trek is already out of style: how often do you see people still using a flip-phone? In some ways, 2013 is ahead of the twenty-third century.
What fictional inventions do you look forward to becoming reality? A hoverboard would sure come in handy!