How have novels inspired inventors?

Robots, smartphones, autonomous cars… Many technological innovations were first imagined by science fiction authors, before inspiring inventors.

Virtual reality has been around for almost a century

In the novel Player One by Ernest Cline, released in 2011, (in its cinema version), the hero connects to Oasis, a parallel digital world, thanks to a virtual reality (VR) headset.. If this novel is the book next to the bed of the American Palmer Luckey, the inventor of the very real headset Oculus Rift, the idea of ​​VR is even older: in 1935, the American Stanley G. Weinbaum unknowingly laid the foundations in his book. tidings The plays of Pygmalion, where he describes a pair of glasses offering a film whose story “centers on you, who are the actor.” In 1992, the American writer Neal Stephenson coined the word metaverse, a virtual world where one can work and have fun. Inspired by the concept, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebookchanges the name of his company to Meta in 2021 and starts the race for metaverse. Ironic, when you know that the virtual universe described by Stephenson is controlled by a multinational!

Mobile phone inspired by a TV series

One of the most visionary technologies of the series star journeyin the late 1960s, it is none other than the famous flip-flop “communicator” that allows the characters to contact their ship from planets distant. At that time, the American engineer Martin Cooper had been developing portable radio systems for Motorola since 1954. The first episode of the series reinforces his conviction about the interest of such devices. Good point: it’s what it presents the first cell phone in 1973. The device then weighed 1.5 kilograms and had a ten-centimeter antenna!


HG Wells here we go ! This is how the Hungarian Leo Szilard, one of the fathers of Atomic bombwhen the fission of uranium was described in 1938. The physicist was marked by the novel Liberation Destruction, published in 1914, in which the British author predicted the operation and destructive consequences of a Nuclear weapons. Szilard pushed the United States to develop this bomb before Nazi Germany… and then spent the rest of his life campaigning for disarmament.

From the famous Beetle to the autonomous car

Choupette (Herbie in English), the iconic speech-gifted taco from the film love of a ladybug, released in 1968, it is one of the first autonomous cars in cinemas! Since the first development in 1977 automobile able to follow markers on the ground, autonomous vehicles continue to advance and now manage to drive in simple conditions (highways or traffic jams). But the models are still far from being able to achieve the exploits of fictional cars, such as Choupette or Kitt in the K2000!

In the absence of dinosaurs, we are already cloning sheep

As early as 1932, the British Aldous Huxley staged in Le brave new worldMass production ofcloned people. His fictitious process is based on the separation of the same egg fertilized by a spermatozoon… like what happens with identical twins. The author never mentions itDNA, and for good reason! Its structure was discovered only in 1953. Cloning has become a reality since the birth of doll sheep in 1996. However, unlike those in SF, the actual clones turn out to be imperfect copies, due to the technique used which deprives the clone of some of the model’s genetic material. The “resurrection” of dinosaurs also remains unattainable today, the DNA of the original models is too degraded. Finally, many ethical obstacles prevent human cloning to date. In short, Huxley’s nightmare has not (yet) come true!

Cyber ​​Security and Crime Prediction

In his news Minority Report (screened by Steven Spielberg in 2002), imagined the American Philip K. Dick, from 1956, the mutants able to predict murders, precogs (for precognitive). If these creatures do not yet exist, the progress of big data (separation and analysis of large masses of data) nevertheless approach their faculties. Compiling the history of crimes Conducted in Chicago between 2014 and 2016, researchers created a program capable of predicting where new crimes would occur a week in advance… with a reliability of more than 90% during tests! We dare not think about the consequences that the piracy of this type of data would have. The idea was explored by the American visionary William Gibson in his novel neuromancer, as early as 1984. He evoked the possibilities of mass data theft by hackers, foreshadowing the current challenges of cyber security. At the time, however, the Internet was little more than an experimental system!

Bank card, a…socialist project

IN Looking Back (One Hundred Years Later or Year 2000)published in 1888, the American Edward Bellamy describes a utopian society centered on the sharing of wealth, where ” credit card it allows everyone to access their share of the nation’s product. In reality, it was the desire not to be burdened with money that motivated its invention in 1950.

Video conference, described by Jules Verne

Business meeting or aperitif between friends, millions of French have enjoyed since the closure the joys of “visio” exchanges. WRITER Jules Verne had already had her intuition in 1889. In his short story An American journalist’s day in 2889 , the genius of reception invented the phonotelephone to call while seeing his interlocutor. In reality, it wasn’t until 1970 that AT&T launched the Picturephone II, the first videoconference.

Jetpack, an age-old idea

In flight under Eiffel TowerFrenchman Franky Zapata designed a jetpack, the Flyboard Air, with which he managed to cross the English Channel in 2019. This idea of ​​a flying suit, widely used in SF, from the hero Iron Man to the bounty hunter Boba Fett in Star Warsit was dreamed up in 1928 by the American writer Edward E. Smith, in his short story. Lauresha of Space (Cure of the stars, serialized in the American magazine Amazing Stories).

Dangerous robots?

If automata have existed since antiquity, the term robot it did not appear for the first time until 1920, in the play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Capek. The word refers to the check ” robots (“daily work”). It wasn’t until 1961 that the first true industrial robot was designed. Since then, progress has been dazzling, and cars are everywhere, from autonomous sweepers to military drones. The Ameca robot designed by British start-up Engineered Arts perfectly mimics human facial expressions.

However, these humanoids have not reached the stage of development of science fiction robots, equipped with a intelligence. In the movie Me, robotof 2004, and inspired by the works of the Russian Isaac Asimov, another genius in waiting, a man is killed by a robot. Able to feel emotions,artificial intelligence whoever governs believes they must take control of humanity to save it from its own misdeeds (war, pollution), one of SF’s favorite themes. Already in Czech Čapek’s show, the mass-produced android servants ended up revolting. Can people be replaced by their countless numbers MACHINES ? This is one of the questions raised by artificial intelligence (AI), since the first mathematical model that allows the creation of a network of neuronsin 1943. AI has come a long way since then, and few programs now manage to surpass the famous Turing testthat is, to imitate people in a conversation.

Others are now beating human champions, such as the very difficult game of go, the AlphaGo software. But these programs, ultra-efficient, are such only for very specific tasks: strategy games, image recognition, etc. The development of a true “general” intelligence still seems beyond the reach of science, the human-robot war is not yet actual.

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