Where fiction turns real: From Star Trek to metaverse and everything in between

From metaverse to cellphones, fiction has sparked more technological innovations than one imagines

Metaverse VR virtual reality game playing, man and woman play metaverse virtual digital technology game control with VR goggle

By Shubhangi Shah

Metaverse is a buzzword these days. Although many are still trying to figure it out, you can loosely understand it as a virtual world where you interact through a digital avatar. Its sudden popularity can be credited to Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg after he renamed Facebook last year in a bid to stride towards the metaverse, often touted as the next phase of the internet revolution. He might have stirred the hype, but he is neither behind the concept nor the term. Writer Neal Stephenson first mentioned ‘metaverse’ in his 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash, where Hiro Protagonist mingles, shops, and even defeats his enemies in the virtual world. Sounds familiar? The concept predates that and was made popular as cyberspace in yet another science-fiction novel Neuromancer (1984), by writer William Gibson.

And, science fiction is one space that has stoked more tech innovations than one might imagine.

Star Trek inspires tech

Just take today’s cellphone. The sci-fi phenomenon Star Trek can be termed groundbreaking for more reasons than one. However, after debuting in 1966, when it showed characters communicating with one another through a fictional communicator that resembled the modern flip phone, the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, might not have imagined that the device would become so common. Even Martin Cooper, the Motorola scientist, who created the first cellphone in 1973, might have envisaged the popularity.

Not just flip phones, the massively hit show also shows what can be called the MP3, where Data was shown playing music from his computer.

Similarly, earbuds, as they are known today, first found an audience in the 1950s when writer Ray Bradbury described characters in Fahrenheit 451 as wearing wearables embedded inside their ears. Who knew that what was science-fiction then would turn into reality a few decades later?

The disruptive ones

While phones and MP3 are the innocent offsprings of sci-fi, some creations are much more disruptive.

Although the Manhattan project, which eventually led to the development of nuclear weapons, was taken up only in 1942, the idea appears to be older. In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, British writer HG Wells imagined a uranium-based bomb that would explode indefinitely. Not that just, he even conceived its drop through aerial bombardment. The book was later turned into a film The Shape of Things to Come in 1936, almost a decade before the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Not just the atomic bomb, military drones, too, first made it into fiction before turning into reality. The 1984 sci-fi action film The Terminator can be credited with showing these armed aerial vehicles on the silver screen for the first time. The actual use, however, reportedly only happened in the early 2000s during the USA’s so-called ‘war on terror’.

Coming back to Wells, it is not just the atomic bombs, he is also credited with conceptualising liquid-propelled rockets, mentioned in his 1897 classic War of the World.

Robots & driverless cars

Similarly, robots might not be uncommon today. However, it was in 1927 when it was first shown in the film Metropolis. In that, a metallic humanoid was designed to resemble Maria, a character in the film. Almost a century later, the field of robotics is up and running.

Several businesses are betting big on autonomous, or driverless cars, and it is a great testimony of today’s technological prowess that cannot be contested. However, when the writers of the 1990 film Total Recall, starring actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, conceptualised it, they might not have fathomed that the technology would arrive sooner than expected.

Self-driving delivery robot concept. 3D illustration

The fiction was set in 1984, where Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid ends up in a showdown on Mars (Elon Musk might be chuckling here). In one event, he gets into a driverless car, called a Johnny Cab, run by what was shown as a robot. One just had to tell Johnny the destination, and off it went. Even a bionic limb was first shown on screen. In Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker loses his arm, he gets a bionic instead, which could do all the functions of the normal hand. It was an idea then, but the field of prosthetics now brought a considerable transformation in the lives of many.

Several other technologies, from submarines and helicopters to credit cards and 3-D printing, found a way into the real world through fiction. One has to give it to the writers for such outlandish imagination and to the several technocrats across the world for turning them (although not all), into reality.

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