Space elevators and other ideas from science fiction

Click on this link for a list of ten significant technological concepts which had their popular origins in the world of sci-fi. In some cases, a science fiction source was not necessarily the actual originator, but was influential in bringing the idea to popular attention.

The following could be added to the list

Space Elevator – The Fountains of Paradise – A C Clarke

Aquaculture – The Deep Range – Arthur C Clarke

Data Glasses [e.g. Google Goggles} – Virtual Light – William Gibson

Nanotechnology [and particularly the idea of The Young Ladies Primer] – The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson

Biofuels – The Sun Chemist – Lionel Davidson.  The Sun Chemist  was first published in 1976. The story is that, in the 1930s, Chaim Weizmann [a real person who was a renowned chemist and one of the founders of modern Israel] discovered a means of producing a biofuel from a plant. The significance of the discovery was not appreciated at the time and the formula was misplaced. The book is about the attempt to find the formula. The book is more of a detective novel than science fiction but the idea of creating an oil substitute from plant matter was remarkable prescient. Now it is a hot topic.  Davidson was a very good writer and I would recommend the book to you. I also enjoyed another of his books, A Long Way to Shiloh; which is about an attempt to discover a lost historical object.

Science fiction films have also done a lot to introduce new technological concepts to the general public.

The 6th Day – biometrics

Minority Report was mainly about precognition but the film also introduced a remarkable range of other ideas, including electronic paper, malevolent applications of plant genetics, mass surveillance and maglev transportation.

Chain Reaction – power generation by splitting H2O to release burnable hydrogen.

The list linked to above mentions Vinge’s True Names as being very influential in introducing the concept of virtual worlds, but Vinge’s most influential contribution has been the concept of The Singularity. This is the point at which mankind develops an autonomous artificial intelligence, all trends end, and the world changes drastically. The Terminator and Matrix series are about events just before and after the singularity.

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