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Technology in science fiction examines the possibilities and implications of new technological concepts. Authors have taken, or created, new innovations and technologies, and elaborated on what they might be and how they might be used. This exchange goes in both directions - sometimes the technology appears first in science fiction, then becomes reality (such as space travel) and other times the real technology comes first, and science fiction authors speculate about how it might be used, and how it might affect the human condition. Likewise, the accuracy of the technology portrayed spans a wide range - sometimes it is existing technology, sometimes it is a physically realistic portrayal of a far-out technology, and sometimes it is simply a plot device that looks scientific, but has no basis in science. Examples drawn from space travel in science fiction include:
Almost every new technology that becomes practical was previously used in science fiction. The following are a few examples, from a very large set:
Transparent Aluminum as featured in the Star Trek universe has since become a reality as Aluminium oxynitride (ALONtm), patented in 1985, and as different from metallic aluminum as rust is from iron. Rather than being used as transparent blast shielding as in the fictional Enterprise class starships, this transparent ceramic is used, as the chemically similar (and similarly expensive) corundum (crystalline aluminum oxide) has long been used, in tough windows.
Tractor/Repulsor Beams have been realized as Laser-based Optical tweezers, and more recently as a pair of Bessel beams. These instruments use the radiation from the laser beam to manipulate microscopic particles in what is called an "optical trap" along the length of the beam as desired.
Fictional Tractor beams have been prominently used in the Star Wars universe and in the Star Trek universe. In an early scene of Star Wars: A New Hope a large spaceship uses such a beam to seize a small one, in order to capture the protagonists.
Artificial Vision/Prosthetic Eyes Visual prosthesis has been a topic of experiments since the late 20th century.
Notable characters using artificial vision include all characters from the Ghost in the Shell series who use prosthetic bodies e.g. Batou's ranger eyes, Saito's left eye, and Motoko Kusanagi's artificial eyes, Geordi La Forge from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series who made use of a VISOR and later; ocular implants, RoboCop from the RoboCop series, Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series, and the Illusive Man from the Mass Effect series of videogames.
Tricorder The Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development Portable Test System (LOCAD-PTS) used by astronauts on the International Space Station is designed specifically to biochemical molecules with the purpose of "identifying microbes on space station services" through use of the Gram Staining Method.
Though less advanced than the fictional tricorder of the Star Trek series, the LOCAD-PTS is useful for quickly identifying bacteria and fungi on the International Space Station without having to send samples back to Earth, thus risking contamination or degradation. Fungi have proven to be a hazard if left unchecked on the space station as they managed to decompose some Russian electronics.
The Tricorder featured in the Star Trek universe was capable of measuring almost anything, from the chemical composition of explosives, to the life signs of a dying humanoid. The LOCAD-PTS does not differentiate between live and dead test material yet.
Since the principles of rocketry were worked out in the early 20th century, writers have used straightforward extrapolation to support stories of interplanetary exploration, colonization, conquest and so forth.
With new developments in space exploration and technology the idea of space exploration became a reality. Though many writers explored space travel before these events and inventions, the reality of new technologies and the evidence that space exploration was now possible opened new doors to create more fantastical ideas of space travel. Many Science Fiction topics are born from reality, but turn these new technologies to create imagined realities, thus creating Science Fiction in itself.
1903 - The Wright brothers invented the first motored and manned airplane, launching the age of human flight
1920s - Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun developed liquid-fueled rockets, later applied as the V2 in war. Fictional spaceships of the 1950s were typically shaped like the V2. Later long range missiles influenced later fiction.
The Space Race between the US and Soviet Union inspired more precise depiction of technology already under development.
Space stations, first presented in crude form by The Brick Moon, were popularized in the 1960s by books agitating for further development. Those little resembled the Salyut 1 or later actual stations. 2001: A Space Odyssey (film) presented the "rotating wheel space station" of the 1960s but few others did. The long-running fictional Deep Space Nine (space station) and Babylon 5 (space station) little resembled any of the above.
Galactic-scale stories usually call for interstellar travel in human lifetimes, which is not supported by existing science, so this technology is more speculative. Among the earliest introductions to this concept include E.E. "Doc" Smith's element X-powered spaceship in the Skylark and Lensman series (1920s). The so-called X solution unlocked the atomic power of copper, which is then used to power an advanced propulsion system. In these narratives, the ships are "inertia-less"; this Inertialess drive makes travel effortless at huge multiples of the speed of light.
The faster-than-light travel was also explained in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and became a familiar term thereafter particularly since the concept was also used by the Star Wars films as well as other fictional intergalactic narratives.
Hyperspace commonly designates one class of technology, where infinite speeds are possible; a ship may jump to hyper space or star drive "clutching at the very fabric of time itself" thus making travel that would normally take thousands of years possible in no time at all. One example of narrative descriptions for hyperspace was John E Stith's conceptualization in the novel Redshift Rendezvouz (1990). The author described that a spacecraft operating in a hyperspace moves at exactly 1,024 times the speed of light relative to normal space time, with the speed of light lower than 300,000 kilometers per second.
While now (as of 2017) there are companies that are fully devoted to creating robots and artificial intelligence, these ideas were long present in science fiction before they started to become real technology. Mechanical and artificial characters were derived both from extrapolations of real engineering efforts, and from the whims and imaginations of the authors. This technology has given writers, as well as other forms of art, the inspiration to create non-human characters.
Artificial Intelligence (also known as machine intelligence and often abbreviated as AI) is intelligence exhibited by any manufactured (not grown) system. The term is often applied to general-purpose computers and also in the field of scientific investigation into the theory and practical application of AI.
A robot is an electro-mechanical or bio-mechanical device or group of devices that can perform autonomous or preprogrammed tasks.
An android is a robot made to resemble a human, usually both in appearance and behavior. The word derives from the Greek andr-, " meaning "man, male", and the suffix -eides, used to mean "of the species; alike" (from eidos "species").
A cyborg is a cybernetic organism which adds to or enhances its abilities by using technology.
With new developments in science and technology helping to study and promote parapsychology or Psi Phenomena, many SF writers felt the need to incorporate and elaborate on these subjects in their stories. While technology helped the investigation into Psi Phenomena it also created questions that many SF writers chose to answer, through their stories, in their own unique way. If we look at some of the examples of Psi Phenomena prominent in stories, they may have stemmed from how science would take this experimentation with Psi Phenomena and use it. In Stephen King's "The Dead Zone", we see how precognition was used to affect political candidates. The idea that someone could harness this power and use it for good or evil was one that many SF writer's elaborated on. In "The Foreign Hand Tie" by Randall Garret espionage takes on a new form via telepathy through twins. When science and technology can be used to anchor something in reality, via experimentation or exploration, and yield results, it creates controversy that society may fear or even fantasize about. Throughout SF history, Psi Phenomena can be seen to be used for good and evil, and through new science and technological discoveries, this genre then becomes more real and more elaborate.
While ESP and belief in other powers were, in the beginning, mainly fueled by superstitions, religion and tradition, the dawn of science brought about a way to analyze and study these supposed "powers" giving them an anchor in reality. The Scientific Revolution featured ideas that life should be "led by reason" and that, "the universe as a mechanistic, deterministic system could eventually be known accurately and fully through observation and reason". While new science and technology gave rise to skepticism towards the existence of psi phenomena, it also gave way for new technologies to be applied in either proving or disproving such phenomena. One of the first experimental approaches to Psi Phenomena started in the 1930s and was conducted under the direction of J.B. Rhine (1895-1980). Rhine popularized the now famous methodology of card guessing and dice rolling experiments in a laboratory in attempt to find statistical validation for ESP. In 1957 the Parapsychological Association was formed at the preeminent society for parapsychology. Openness to new parapsychology studies and occult phenomena continued to rise in the 1970s.
Government investigations into parapsychology: Project Star Gate, formed in 1970 with cooperation from the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, investigates remote viewing, sees nothing useful
Extraterrestrial life is a familiar topic in fiction. In the centuries since astronomers discovered that planets are worlds, people have speculated on the possibility of life existing there, though xenobiology has remained a science without a subject. However, people from afar, or alien creatures with various powers and purposes, provided fresh new material for fiction. Some stories were about friendly visitors who got along with humans, such as the aliens in the Keroro Gunsou series, when they give up on attempting to take over planet Earth. Others made alien invasion their theme, as in the 1898 novel, War of the Worlds. Meteorites have long shown that foreign bodies sometimes enter Earth's atmosphere, and the term "flying saucer" was coined in 1947. Several science fiction novels used them.
The notion of parallel worlds have always intrigued different types of genres, especially the science fiction aspect. Many authors have used the idea of travelling back into prehistoric times or traveling forwards to an unknown universe. The idea of entering a world that has not been touched or that has evolved into a new incomprehensible parallel, makes people ponder about what it could looks like or what it could be. Authors have used this notion of an alternate reality and have created their own worlds that have given readers a different view of alternate worlds.
Parallel Universe Parallel universe or alternate reality in science fiction and fantasy is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with our own
Multiverse Set of many universes. There are many specific uses of the concept, as well as systems in which a multiverse is proposed to exist in.
Parallel universe alternate universes, worlds, realities and dimensions in fiction.
Alternate reality alternate universes, worlds, realities and dimensions in fiction.
Alternate future is a possible future which never comes to pass, typically because someone travels back into the past and alters it so that the events of the alternate future cannot occur.
The idea of being unseen and hence undetectable has fascinated mankind for generations. This concept has generated scientific pursuit towards defying our physical parameters. Many authors have toyed with the idea of gaining invisibility via both science-based and fictional means. Invisibility in the actual scientific world will be a very difficult achievement, one that will involve much more complication than we have begun to delve into. Further technological developments bring us closer to our goal, while also broadening the horizon for science fiction authors performing thought experiments on the topic of invisibility.
Invisibility is a term that is usually used as a fantasy or science fiction term where objects are literally made unseeable by magical or technological means.
There is an undeniable link between science fact and the ideas that emerge in science fiction. Science fiction authors are inspired by actual scientific and technological discoveries, but allow themselves the freedom to project the possible future course of these discoveries and their potential impact on society, perhaps only weakly bound to the facts.
Authors are faced with obstacles presented by the realities of actual technology, however fiction allows a window for the opportunity of inventing completely imaginary technologies to move their storyline forward and maybe even still explore the outcomes of such power.