9 Sensational Sci-Fi Ideas That Came True

Technologies and gadgets that debuted in science fiction films and novels.

ByABC News
July 27, 2010, 7:03 PM

July 28, 2010— -- Want to predict the future? Maybe you should head to the movies or crack open a book.

Before technology can be tested in a lab, it has to be hatched in someone's brain. And, often, those brains don't belong to scientists and product developers, but to imaginative science fiction writers and movie makers.

Sometimes it's deliberate and sometimes it's not, but science fiction writers and scientists have long mirrored each others' work.

"It's incestuous," said science fiction writer and futurist Brenda Cooper. "I think there's a sort of constant dialogue that goes on with science fiction writers and scientists and product designers."

A complete list of all the science fiction prophecies that came true would fill pages. But check out some of our favorite recent examples below.

It sounds like the basis of Steven Spielberg's 2002 film "Minority Report": a police unit dedicated to uncovering crimes before they even happen.

But for police officers with the Memphis Police Department, this is almost reality. Instead of relying on human-like psychics, however, the officers rely on a sophisticated computer program.

It evaluates a wide range of factors – data on arrests, reported crime, probation, parole and even the weather – and then helps law enforcement identify patterns in crime as well as potential hotspots.

"If you can identify what kinds of crimes are occurring in a location, what days they are occurring and what time frame [in which] they are occurring, you really do have a sense of where to put the police," said Richard Janikowski, director of the Center for Community Criminology and Research at the University of Memphis.

The predictive analytics software, called CRUSH (for Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History), is owned by IBM but has been adapted by the police department.

IBM and the Memphis Police Department announced this month that, since the program started in 2006, crime in Memphis has dropped 30 percent overall and violent crime has declined about 15 percent. Janikowski said organization and leadership changes contributed to the decrease in crime, but the technology played a significant role.

Next time you go to Japan, you might have your very own "Minority Report" moment.

Japanese railway companies are trying digital billboards that can determine the gender and age of people looking at them and then show them customized advertisements.

According to the Agence-France Presse, a group of 11 companies launched a one-year pilot of these high-tech billboards last month.

Unlike the billboards that called out to Tom Cruise's character in "Minority Report," these boards can't identify individual people. But, using cameras, they can determine an onlooker's sex and approximate age and then offer up an appropriate ad.

Space Tourism

In the sci-fi classic, "2001: A Space Odyssey," a Pan Am space plane shuttles passengers to a space station. We're not there quite yet, but thanks to commercial space pioneers like Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk, we're getting closer.

Branson's Virgin Galactic is testing spaceships that could carry tourists on suborbital flights and, according to the Associated Press, already has a list of 300 clients willing to pay for the $200,000 ticket.

Musk's SpaceX reached a major milestone in June, when one of its rockets achieved Earth orbit as planned. At the time, Musk said the successful maiden voyage bolstered President Barack Obama's plan to give private companies contracts to carry cargo and people to the space station.

"That makes you think of these sci fi heroes that could always design spaceships to go off planet," said Cooper. "That used to be something we wrote a lot about."


An essential sci-fi staple, robots are increasingly finding their way into real-life scenarios, both at home and at work.

In May, researchers in Germany presented an "autonomous robot car" with sensors, scanners and camera systems that could potentially help avoid military fatalities from bombings. In Japan, a 4-foot-tall robot called I-Fairy led a wedding ceremony.

"I can go to Costco and buy a robot to clean the floor… in Japan, they're beginning to expand with medical robot," said Cooper.

While Asian countries are friendlier to robots that Western countries, she said, we'll continue to see more and more innovation in robotics.

Synthetic Biology

Frankenstein may seem like a far cry from reality but, in truth, scientists have already learned how to create an organism from man-made DNA.

In a small but important step in synthetic biology, in May, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute created the very first cell totally derived from DNA synthesized in a lab.

Tablets and E-Books

From the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to "Star Trek" to "Minority Report," the sci-fi genre has long promised an iPad-like computer that can be held in your hands.

But Bill Christensen, a Web application developer and owner of Technovelgy.com, a website on science fiction innovations, said electronic books were written about by a science fiction writer decades ago.

In the 1961 novel, "Return from the Stars," he said Stanislaw Lem predicted the end of the physical book.

"No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They can be read the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it," Lem writes.

"That sounds pretty much like a Kindle to me and that's fifty years ago," said Christensen.

This week, he said, the reference was even more striking: For the first time ever, Amazon said it sold more electronic books in the last quarter than hardcovers.