Real life versions of fictional software
February 2, 2007 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I was wonerding if anyone could give me examples of programs from science fiction(or any kind of fiction) that have been turned into real world applications ?

The best and only example i can think of is 'Earth' from snowcrash = Google Earth / WorldWind.
There is no need this other than idle curiosity.
posted by grex to Media & Arts (41 answers total)
 
Memex?

Also, most software is so deadly boring no one would ever write about it. I mean, how are you going to work an ERP system into a plot? Ugh, I don't want to read that book.
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on February 2, 2007


The perl-script/playing cards solitaire cryptography system from Cryptonomicon?
posted by porpoise at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2007


Hahah true, but I mean the other way around. The idea was in fiction first and then it was made into a real program.
posted by grex at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2007


Communications software a la Star Trek?

It is possible now, to merely speak the name of the person you're trying to reach into a device and be connected with them (almost) instantly. Though it can also be argued that the cell phone itself is Star Trek technology.


I'm sure there must be plenty of examples from early William Gibson and someone smarter than I may be able to point them out.
posted by utsutsu at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2007


Voice-recognition and voice-synthesis systems in general have matured considerably over the last few decades. Star Trek TOS is just one obvious source, there; I have no doubt there are scads more.
posted by cortex at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2007


bloody damn hell, utsutsu
posted by cortex at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2007


A quirk of software traceable to sci-fi:

I remember once reading about the pervasive influence of science fiction on tech and software engineers over the last thirty years. One memorable point was that there was no common usage or programming reason for the expression "access denied" to be phrased that way--but the phrase was a staple of sci-fi and thereby caught on in reality.
posted by Phred182 at 1:43 PM on February 2, 2007


There's more than that in Snow Crash: Second Life is like the Street, although Stephenson acknowledges there were avatar systems already around that he wasn't aware of. The CiC is wikipedia/youtube + charges.
posted by bonaldi at 1:47 PM on February 2, 2007


Also, what about reputation-based systems that echo Whuffie?
posted by Phred182 at 1:50 PM on February 2, 2007


Wikipedia (hell, the whole internet) on a wifi enabled PDA is basically the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, especially in terms of accuracy.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:54 PM on February 2, 2007


Heinlein anticipated CAD in The Door Into Summer. Brunner anticipated worms in Shockwave Rider. Forster anticipated the blogosphere (self-link) in "The Machine Stops," to stretch a point.

Second Life and the various VR systems can be said to have been anticipated by Vinge's "True Names", Stephenson's Snow Crash, and, less specifically, by any of a number of Phil Dick novels.

Heinlein's For We the Living, written in 1938 but not published until 2003, posthumously, describes a system not unlike a subset of the web, by which one could request information through something like a terminal, and it's printed on demand and delivered by pneumatic tube.

Brunner in The Jagged Orbit describes, vaguely, telecommuting, dealing with spam (except it was "satch" for "saturation mail" and was physical), and video editing.

Walter Jon Williams' "The Green Leopard Plague" describes software I don't doubt we'll see in the future, allowing you to search images on the net for the appearance of a given person, functionally allowing you to trace the person's movement given how many images get posted in which he or she might appear in the background.

I doubt you'd find many examples in early Gibson. Gibson's best at describing the feel of the future, and pretty lousy with the specifics. Science fiction in general is pretty lousy at specific predictions, and where it succeeds owes much to the collective output of its authors being such a broad scattershot, it's bound to hit something. This is by no means a slam against science fiction; specific prediction of the future really isn't the point.

Anyway, for really solid specifics, I can't come up with much. For really vague things that generally predict the existence of a technology with an equivalent effect, there's a lot.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:56 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


John Brunner, in Shockwave Rider came up with the idea of a software worm about a decade before the Morris worm.
posted by Coda at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2007


there was no common usage or programming reason for the expression "access denied" to be phrased that way

What simpler way could there be of expressing that idea? It seems naturally to be the most concise.
posted by odinsdream at 2:07 PM on February 2, 2007


Oops, that Heinlein title is For Us, the Living.

Another entry in the not here yet but I expect it category: in Bruce Sterling's Distraction a government profiler to sift through the various footprints we leave on the net and predict who's a potentially dangerous loon gets leaked and script kiddies can use it to identify a list of likely psychopaths and spam them with email about what a monster you are. If even a few take the bait, your life gets interesting.

ordo-mode for Emacs is explicitly identified as being inspired by Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2007


utsutsu writes "It is possible now, to merely speak the name of the person you're trying to reach into a device and be connected with them (almost) instantly."

My mother works in health care and her work place is outfitted with personal communicators about the same size as ST:TNG communicator badges. Not only will they instantly connect you with any other wearer they can also tell you where you are in the building or where the person you are looking for is located.

Zed_Lopez writes "Heinlein's For We the Living, written in 1938 but not published until 2003, posthumously, describes a system not unlike a subset of the web, by which one could request information through something like a terminal, and it's printed on demand and delivered by pneumatic tube. "

Friday is also very forward thinking RE: web like information access but BBSes were already around so it's not as much of a jump.
posted by Mitheral at 2:11 PM on February 2, 2007


Home automation software is delivering things that were promised in science fiction for ages. One project I can think of that didn't ultimately get implemented by the home automation firm I worked for would have texted the cell of the homeowner if his (below sea level) basement took on water. Likewise you can turn your jacuzzi on when you land at the airport with your pocket PC, etc. etc.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:17 PM on February 2, 2007


Having finished with things off the top of my head, I did some obvious web searching. Here's a site dedicated to sf predictions, but it's not software-specific.

Oh dear. Have I outed myself as some sort of sf & computer geek?
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:20 PM on February 2, 2007


Microsoft's Whereabouts Clock is clearly a ripoff of the one in the Weasley family's kitchen.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:39 PM on February 2, 2007


Videoconferencing is a staple of science fiction that's working its way into the mainstream.

"Ask Jeeves" is a crude but interesting attempt to realize the anthropomorphic user interfaces common in science fiction.
posted by contraption at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2007


And to get meta, the Philip K. Dick Android was an attempt to replicate the sort of technology Dick himself wrote about in "We Can Build You".
posted by contraption at 2:53 PM on February 2, 2007


Bruce Sterling anticipated serotonin-based behavior modification in Schismatrix, anticipated youtube/blogging in Artificial Kid, and anticipated ubiquitous connectivity in Islands in the Net. None of these are programs, per se, but still interesting. Actually, Islands in the Net had something very much like SimEarth as a throwaway idea.

His newer books are recent enough that reality hasn't had enough time to make those anticipations come true.
posted by adamrice at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2007


A bit older, but Jules Verne predicted submarines with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and air travel with Around the World in Eighty Days.

On the movie front, you have 1902's A Trip to the Moon.

I suppose you could also count Arthur C. Clarke and the geostationary satellite.
posted by quin at 3:49 PM on February 2, 2007


/grumbles. Oh you were looking for software, not technology. Ignore my previous.
posted by quin at 3:51 PM on February 2, 2007


Vigor, from UserFriendly
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 3:58 PM on February 2, 2007


What's interesting to me is how totally off most science fiction movies have been - there's a focus on hover boards (that don't work on water) and space travel, but not on computers or network technologies. Look at the Death Star and X-Wing interfaces, for example.

That aside, I recall that the original Start Trek featured data storage devices that were approximately the same size and shape as 3.5 inch diskettes. As for software, one could argue that the VR/Haptic interface of the computers in Minority Report are starting come into existence with things like Multi-Touch and the iPhone.
posted by aladfar at 4:02 PM on February 2, 2007


John Underkoffler who put together the Minority Report hands-in-the-air-driven user interface (complete with full fictional-but-realistic manual of each gesture and resulting operation which I believe Tom Cruise had to learn) is now part of a company trying to bring it to reality. I forget the name of the company. Not sure if this qualifies as an answer since it is not a finished and released product, but just wanted to throw in the fact that someone is working hard at it.
posted by shortfuse at 5:08 PM on February 2, 2007


The BBC runs a site called h2g2, which was founded in part by Douglas Adams. It's basically a moderated wiki, founded before Wikipedia became popular. The idea was to create a "real life" Hitchhiker's Guide. Much of the writing is in the vein of Adams' books - humorous and laden with footnotes.

Cryptonomicon dealt heavily with the idea of a data haven (ala Pirate Bay's plans to buy an island), but I'm not sure how it fits in chronologically with other such attempts.

Several books and movies have dealt with artificial celebrities - I think Gibson's Idoru came out before groups like the Gorillaz ever became popular.

And what about Ender's Game, with children playing video games being used to fight wars? The two halves are there - children playing video games, and remotely-operated vehicles. How long before kids playing Flight Simulator are actually flying UAVs at the enemy?
posted by backseatpilot at 5:27 PM on February 2, 2007


I doubt you'd find many examples in early Gibson. Gibson's best at describing the feel of the future, and pretty lousy with the specifics. Science fiction in general is pretty lousy at specific predictions

Maybe not today, but today's computers are far more advanced then what Gibson was imagining. There were all kinds of crazy things being cooked up in HCI labs that basically tried to implement Gibson's ideas about cyberspace. Autodesk even tried to trademark that word...
posted by delmoi at 8:27 PM on February 2, 2007


In the opening chapter of Delany's Triton, they play a turn-based strategy game - something like Warlords or maybe Magic.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:22 PM on February 2, 2007


E.M. Forster wrote a story called The Machine Stops in 1908 that I think was an astonishingly prescient description of the internet.

In this story people live in windowless underground cubicles and communicate with one another only via a global video/audio network. They find meeting in person distasteful. There is no more schooling per se, but there are constantly lectures, given by laypeople to an informal "audience" of anyone worldwide who wants to tune in. He even talks about the poor quality of the video as a distancing factor -- people no longer really seeing one another but accepting this as the way the world works.

Again, this is from *1908* -- the world hadn't even absorbed the idea of film cameras, much less videoconferencing.
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:23 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


One might also want to keep in mind that many scientists / tech heads / people that create new tech are also fans of sci-fi and may shift the balance toward "I wanna make star trek gadgets real!"-type innovation.
posted by softlord at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2007


First submarine
posted by dpcoffin at 9:43 AM on February 3, 2007


John Underkoffler who put together the Minority Report hands-in-the-air-driven user interface

That Tom Cruise hand waving schtick was done first by Keanu Reeves in the otherwise appalling 1995 Johnny Mnemonic movie. I believe it was riffing off the late-80s/early 90s DataGlove/PowerGlove thing. In many ways, Nontendos current Wii controller fascination is a reprise of its PowerGlove flirtation.
posted by meehawl at 2:46 PM on February 3, 2007


Crap. I knew about the Turtle dpcoffin, honestly I did. My brain just went went away for a while when I was posting, apparently.
posted by quin at 2:51 PM on February 3, 2007


This is incredibly lame, and even lamer to have actually remembered, but Kevin's voice recorder from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (the one that recorded playback in lower speeds so you could sound like a grownup on playback). I'm guessing they probably developed simulateneously as a product tie-in for the movie, but the thing was on the shelves six months after the movie came out at the latest.

And if you think about it, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is pretty much the internet. It's a constantly-updated data information stream transmitted remotely to small personal electronic devices.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:13 PM on February 3, 2007


Okay, here's a better example: automatic doors. Wells first wrote about it at the turn of the 20th century; the first real one didn't come around until the 60's. I'm guessing a lot of Wells' and Vernes' elements later became modern-day mechanical inventions (escalators, elevators, moving floors, etc.)

As for non-technology, Star Trek probably has a few if you count marketing tie-ins from gimmicks on the show. I doubt they had the rules and layout established when they made the 3-D chess game, but it's now available as an actual game. Ditto for the Klingon language. (I can't say that for Tolkien, as he actually did create all the languages for LOTR before he wrote the books.)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:21 PM on February 3, 2007


I can't be pinned down to a specific example, but I'm almost certain that Crichton's 1968 Andromeda Strain has some fictional inventions that actually made it into reality.
posted by WCityMike at 8:04 PM on February 3, 2007


Ender's Game, again -- weblogs that eventually influence and change politics.
posted by cmyk at 8:27 PM on February 3, 2007


I can't believe this thread has gotten this far without Vinge's True Names and Second Life being mentioned.
posted by louie at 10:22 AM on February 4, 2007


The molecular dematerializer, I use to commute to work with, is definitely based on teh transporter in Star Trek.
posted by Skygazer at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2007


"And what about Ender's Game, with children playing video games being used to fight wars? The two halves are there - children playing video games, and remotely-operated vehicles. How long before kids playing Flight Simulator are actually flying UAVs at the enemy?"

Given my past experiences in the BF1942/BFII/Counterstrike/every other team based shooter communities, this ain't gonna happen too soon, because UAVs are spensive, and kids playing shooters love, LOVE, to TK.
posted by stenseng at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2007


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