How far can our imaginings take us? Label volunteer Kwaku Mintah takes a look at some of the most prominent inventions that are derived from works of fiction and how they have impacted humanity.

As creatures dominated by time, humans have always wished to peer into the other realms of the Fourth Dimension. Archaeology, memory, and historical texts allow us a view into the past. However, the same cannot apply to the future. Perhaps, though, is there still some way for us to see what it holds? Some believe Science Fiction may be the answer. It’s often said to reflect the worlds and dreams of the times in which it was written. And so, the question arises, what dreams from the past have come true and can this give us a clue for the future we may look ahead to?

Jules Verne is credited by many writers to be “The Father of Science Fiction”. Famous for such works as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, he has inspired many generations of filmmakers, authors, and scientists alike.

John P. Holland, when building the US Navy’s first Submarine, named his company ‘The Nautilus Submarine Boat Company’, after the vessel in Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Simon Lake is quoted as saying, “Jules Verne is the Director-General of my life”, having read the same book when he was young. Decades later, the first Nuclear-Powered Submarine was named ‘USS Nautilus’. It’s hard to deny that Verne’s work had a grip on the minds behind subaquatic transport.

Verne’s influence doesn’t end there, though. From nearly 10 km into the depths, to 5 miles into the sky, he is also credited as the inspiration behind the helicopter. Igor Sikorsky was a grand pioneer in the field of aircraft, forwarding many advancements in land and sea planes, as well as developing the Helicopter. He points to Da Vinci’s sketches and Verne’s Clipper of the Clouds as his main inspirations in developing the Helicopter.

It’s hard to deny that Verne had a powerful impact on the way we envisioned travel, allowing us to explore depths and heights we often left to the imagination. And not only exploration. With an average of 2500 missions a year, Elusen Ambiwlans Awyr Cymru or the Welsh Air Ambulance Charity has saved thousands of people in rural or otherwise hard to reach areas, along with similar organisations around the country, and the manoeuvrability of submarines such as the SSN 637-class allowed for research into the effects of Global Warming on the Arctic.

Sadly, though, Verne’s visions of grand exploration were not all that these technologies were commissioned for. Since World War I, submarines have become an integral part of many countries’ naval forces –one of them nearly leading to nuclear catastrophe in 1962. And this is not to mention the role that Helicopters play in modern warfare. Verne’s curiosities would seem to have led to death and destruction.

But not all of our imagination leads to death. Suzanne Burdon draws a link between the ideas of Mary Shelley in Frankenstein and the defibrillators of today. In 2021, Community Heartbeat Trust had installed over 6,000 defibrillators in disused Telephone Boxes, allowing them to be used in more remote locations. Defibrillation within the first five minutes of a cardiac arrest can increase survival chances by 60%, and no action at all can lead to a fatality of 90%. Heart Safe Australia states, “the use of a defibrillator… provides a quick response, easy maintenance… and can reduce the risk of long-term complications.” The benefits of this technology cannot be understated.

Tim Berners-Lee was inspired by Dial F for Frankenstein, an Arthur C. Clarke short story when creating the internet. There is debate over whether it has had a net positive impact on society as a whole – conversations around the effects of social media on the mental health of our youth, parasocial relationships, and the seemingly toxic culture that has arisen. However, it cannot be ignored the instrumental role it has played in recent years. Movements have grown, generations shaped, and language evolved through interactions online. Where would BLM be without social media, modern feminism without #MeToo, or even Trump without QAnon. The internet has provided us with the ability to communicate with and consume more than we could have dreamed possible. We are truly living in an Information Age, and we have Arthur C. Clarke to thank for that.

Martin Cooper is known to be a huge fan of Star Trek, often stated as his inspiration for the Mobile Phone, something else which has altered the way in which we interact with the world and each other. More than 80% of the world have smartphones, with it only expected to increase to 7.5 billion users in 2026. A majority of people agree that phones have benefited their lives personally – allowing them to contact those far away, easily inform themselves on current events, earn a living, and more – yet they seem to believe there is concern for its effects on the world at large – the main worries being the youth, physical health, morality, and politics. It would seem there’s a consensus that phones have made life more convenient, but the people not as kind.

However, this is all dreams and inventions of the past; what can it tell us about the future for us now? With the majority of science fiction in the past few decades being about Time Travel, Space, and AI, it’s clear we must avoid falling into the traps of those inspired by Verne, corrupting creations of discovery into devices of destruction. From Credit Cards to the Atomic Bomb, Metaverse to Laser Beams; we as humans have been inspired by the works of those before to create the technologies of today. Hopefully, the inventors of the future are informed by those of the past, inspired by Science Fiction to create things that help rather than harm.

Edited By: Connor Forbes (Science and Technology Editor)

Designed By: Dani Price (Head of Digital Design)


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