Real Tech That Fiction Predicted

Wearing touchscreen smartwatch with app icons. Abstract smart watch concept.

As technological advances continue in the Digital Age, the line between science and science fiction sometimes becomes blurred. You might be surprised by some of the real-life gadgets that appeared decades before their invention in popular fiction. Here are a few of our favorites.

Self-driving cars | Metropolis (1927)

Driverless cars are very cutting-edge right now. But long before Google or Tesla Motors appeared on the automotive scene, a German science fiction film called Metropolis took the idea for a test drive. In Metropolis, self-driving cars move at incredible speeds — but there are no accidents or traffic jams to contend with, thanks to careful optimization. The historical context is pretty cool, too: Metropolis debuted just months after the Achen Motor Company test-drove a “ghost car” via radio in Milwaukee.

Smartwatches | The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond has sported a dazzling array of watches equipped with everything from lasers to a buzz saw. Alas, many versions of the Bond watch aren’t available to consumers (yet?) But today’s smartwatches owe something to the gadgets that 007 uses to communicate with Q. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond’s watch works like a high-tech beeper; he can only receive messages (which are then printed out, label-maker style.) By For Your Eyes Only, however, Bond’s watch has been upgraded to a 2-way radio capable of making and receiving transmissions — and receiving digital messages eerily similar to smartwatch notifications. The tech community must have been impressed by Bond’s radio watches, because they became a reality some 30 years later.

Automatic vacuum cleaner | The Jetsons (1962 – 1987)

Working alongside the Jetsons’ mechanical maid Rosie were a host of smaller housekeeping appliances, including an antennaed robotic vacuum. The little vacuum whizzed around the Jetsons’ home, tidying up with minimal supervision. Happily, you won’t have to wait until 2062 (the year the Jetsons live in) to enjoy this type of gadget. Automatic vacuums made their debut in the early 2000s with machines like the Roomba. Today’s robotic vacuums use various infrared and video sensors to navigate around furniture and identify spots that need attention. Until we can get a Rosie of our own, Roombas may be the next best thing.

Voice recognition | Star Trek (1966 – 1969)

The crew of the USS Enterprise always seemed to be calling commands to the ship’s onboard computer, from opening doors to brewing tea. That sophisticated voice recognition system bears striking similarity to the way Google Now, Siri, and Cortana work.

Recently, Amazon Echo has taken voice recognition a step further. The Echo is the first always-listening appliance for the home that isn’t attached to a smartphone or tablet. It expands the library of available commands to include Amazon purchases and control of smart home devices in addition to the facts, metric conversions, traffic and weather data, music control, etc. your phone will give you. Users say the Echo understands and correctly executes commands more often than other services have, with more tolerance for distance and background noise. Plus, if you ask Alexa – the Echo’s AI personality – what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll tell you she wants to be the computer from Star Trek. And so far, she’s well on her way.