The Author Who Foresaw The Internet & The PC
It is an undisputable fact that during the last two centuries; some science fiction authors have written about events and technological gadgets years before they became a reality.
Perhaps the most notable prophetic writer in this group is the French author Jules Verne. In his 1865 novel, “From the Earth to the Moon,” Verne pens a story about the United States launching a manned spaceship named “Columbiad” from a base in Florida. He states that the moon bound spacecraft is mostly made from aluminum and it weighs nearly ten tons. The author goes on to give details about the men becoming weightless during the journey and he describes some of the physical effects it has on their bodies. In the novel, the men land and walk on the moon. The spaceship returns to earth and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean where the men are picked up by a U.S. Navy vessel. The eerie accuracy of the ocean recovery by the U.S. Navy and the concept of weightlessness in space are simply haunting.
That story, written over one hundred and fifty years ago, sends chills up and down my spine. Today history tells us the name of the command module for the Apollo 11 moon landing was “Columbia” and it did launch from Florida. The aluminum composition of both spaceships were spot-on correct. And, the weight of both crafts were fairly accurate. Those and other similarities to America’s 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing are uncanny. However, Jules Verne’s “Moon” novel is just one example of the hundreds of science fiction stories written over the years that eventually proved to be accurate predictions of future events and inventions.
But, what about the Internet and the personal computer? Is there an author who lived in a bygone era who possessed the precognitive gift to write about them?
Some say Mark Twain was the first author to foresee the Internet. And I say, “That’s simply not true.”
The odd title of Mark Twain’s story that some people claim to show his Internet prediction is; “From the London Times in 1904.”
It’s a neat little story that illustrates Mark Twain’s interest in science and technology. And, let’s not forget that Mark Twain was friends with both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. However, it would be a giant leap to say Mark Twain’s story predicts the Internet. Actually, the invention described in the story is similar to a wire connected video-phone. And, although telephones were not in every home when the story was written, they were in use by most businesses. As for Mark Twain connecting a telephone to a video screen, I can understand how that notion could be considered a small step towards the future manifestation of the Internet. But, in no conceivable way would a rational person consider the wired video-phone a prediction of today’s Internet.
However, in 1946 the prolific science fiction author, William Fitzgerald Jenkins did write a compelling story that predicted the Internet and personal computer. Using the pseudonym Murray Leinster, he wrote a short story titled, “A Logic Named Joe.”
Leinster’s story is an extremely clear example of an author’s ability to accurately envision and write about future technological innovations and inventions.
In his story, virtually all homes and businesses have personal computers which the author calls “Logics.” The “Logic” is operated and programmed by using a keyboard and it has a “vision screen.” Leinster’s description of the “Logic” is very similar to the personal computers that we use today.
Unfortunately, I found the plot and Leinster’s style of writing quite boring and a bit seedy. The grammar and dialogue used in the story are reminiscent of the Private-Eye stories that were popular in the mid 1940’s. Nevertheless, the technological innovations that the author infused into the story are amazing. And, although scientists and engineers were working on computers in the 1940’s, they were the size of houses. Plus, the vacuum tubes used in the computers generated an enormous amount of heat. They were constantly breaking down and the engineers of the day had to cool down the huge computers with refrigerants and industrial fans.
Leinster’s astonishing story, which can easily be found on today’s Internet, foretells the use of private Internet addresses, search engines, on screen service help, auto-censorship of adult content for children, on screen flash announcements, censorship of criminally slanted searches, real time stock quotes, weather reports, viewing of television shows, computer viruses, software uploads, coin operated Internet access in restaurants and other public places, automatic software updates and much more.
Murray Leinster’s accurate foretelling of the Internet and the personal computer is a powerful example of how the creative imagination of a writer can improve existing technology and plant the seeds for new discoveries.