Technology in Science Fiction

Technology in Science Fiction

Technology in Science Fiction has helped create many common topics found in Science Fiction today. There have been authors who have taken innovations and have elaborated and created what they thought future technology would be and how it would be used. Today, new technology has brought about new theories and questions that authors have tried to explain in their writings. Due to the new breakthroughs in technology, Science Fiction has been able to create new genres for these discoveries and have allowed Science Fiction authors their own expansion on these new ideas.

pace Warp/Hyper Space/Star Drive

Early writers to mention this topic

E.E. “Doc” Smith: Skylark and Lensman series (1920’s)

Science Fiction magazines: Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories (1930’s to 1950’s)

Definition of terms in Doc’s SF about this topic:

Interstellar Travel: ships being “inertia-less”; inertia-less state makes travel effortless at huge multiples at the speed of light

Other Terms Used Commonly

Hyper Space: 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

Timeline of Probable Influences

1903- The Wright brothers invented the first gas motored and manned airplane, thus making human flight in any sense, possible

1920’s- Robert Goddard’s development of liquid fueled rockets, later developed to be used as the V2 in World War II; long range sub-orbital rockets consuming either solid or liquid fuel that carried warheads (Was the first rocket the beginning idea of the space rocket?)

Early Era Space Exploration:

Space Race between the US and Soviet Union to reach the moon

The launch of the first man-made object to orbit Earth; USSR’s Sputnik 1 (October 4th, 1957)

Soviet Union putting first man in space; Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 (1961)

First moon landing by America; Apollo 11 (July 20th, 1969)

First space station; Salyut 1


With new developments in space exploration and technology the idea of space exploration became a reality. Though many writer’s 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.

Mechanical life/ androids/ robots

Early Writers and examples of Mechanical Life

Maria- Metropolis Film (1927)

Revolt of the Pedestrian by David H. Keller Novel (1932)

Asimov’s Robots Short Stories (1954-1992)

Robbie- The Forbidden Planet Film (1956)

Daleks- Doctor Who Television (1963)

Cybermen- Doctor Who Television (1966)

The Iron Man (novel) by Ted Hughes Novel (1968)

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin Novel (1972)

The Questor Tapes Television-Movie (1974)

The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov Novel (1976)

C-3PO- Star Wars Movie (1977)

Darth Vader- Star Wars Movie (1977)

K9- Doctor Who Television (1977)

Marvin the Paranoid Android- The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978)


Artificial Intelligence(also known as machine intelligence and often abbreviated as AI) is intelligence exhibited by any manufactured (i.e.) 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.Other terms used commonly.

Machine Intelligence, which is derived up from Artificial Intelligence as you see in the definition above.How could development of technology over the decades help these different ideas in science fiction?

Early timeline of probable influences

*1957: Applied Physics Laboratory AIS begins with focus on learning machines and self-organizing systems.

*1961: MINOS 1 First perceptron machine, responds to a pattern of binary inputs using weights.

*1966: Artificial Intelligence Center is formed

*1966-1972: Shakey the Robot First autonomous mobile robots, controlled from radio and TV links.

*1968: A* Algorithm Graph-searching algorithm used to route planning solver for navigation.

*1969: STRIPS Planning engine for Shakey.

*1969: QA3 and QA4 Automated problem solving.


With these developments of Technology through machine engineering and companies that are fully devoted in making the technology, Authors have taken a great interest in this genre or Science Fiction to include technology and have their ideas that are derived from the influences of engineering companies as well as their own imaginations of their creations through technology. The technology that has been created over time has given writers as well as other forms of art the inspiration to create non-human characters.

ESP/Psychic Powers/Psi Phenomena

Terms Commonly Used

Telepathy: the ability to read minds

Precognition: the ability to see the future

Telekinesis: the ability to move objects with mental force (Psychokinesis (PK for short) or "mind over matter")

Teleportation: the ability to move oneself from one place to the other, or back and forward in time

Telempathy: Emotion-reading

Remote Viewing/Clairvoyance/Scrying: the ability for seeing things not actually before your eyes

Psychometry: the ability to sense what has touched a certain physical object or the imprint it has left behind

Bilocation: the ability to be in two places at the same time.

Pyrokinesis: the capability to start fires by mental action alone

Writers to Mention These Topics

* G. H. Ryan: "Fifteen Months in the Moon" (1880)
* Fitz James O’Brien: "The Bohemian" (1885)
* Robert A. Heinlein: "Time for the Stars", (1956): Telepathic twins
* Joanna Russ: "And Chaos Died" (1970): Telepathy
* Algis Budrys: "Rogue Moon", (1960)
* Chester Aaron: "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" (1986)
* Stephen King: "The Dead Zone" (1979): Precognition affects political candidate
* James H. Schmitz: "These Are The Arts" (1962): Telepathic masters, we're slaves
* Isaac Asimov: "Belief" (1953): Physics versus levitation
* Mark Clifton & Alex Apostolide: "What Thin Partitions (1953): Industrial psychokinesis
* Randall Garrett: "The Foreign Hand Tie" (1961): Espionage via telepathy between identical twins
* Robert A. Heinlein: "Project Nightmare" (1953): Clairvoyance and A-bombs
* Zenna Henderson: "Ararat" (1952: The first of "The People" stories, about psi-gifted aliens who live on Earth
* Murray Leinster: "The Leader" (1960): Long-distance mass-hypnotism

Brief History of Psi Phenomena in Science

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 “lead 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 1930’s 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 1970’s.

Technological Developments

The Random Number Generator

Ganzfeld Experiment: homogenous, unpatterened, sensory stimulation to produce an effect similar to sensory deprivation

Development of statistical tools by R.A Fisher in the 1920’s

Timeline of Probable Influences

E. Dawson Rogers hopes to gain new respectability for spiritualism and founds Society for Psychical Research in 1882

Government investigations in to parapsychology: Project Star Gate, formed in 1970 with cooperation from the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, investigates remote viewing


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 effect 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.


Visitors from other planets

Early Writers

"Martians, Go Home" by Frederick Brown, 1956

"The Moon that Vanished" by Leigh Brackett, 1950

"3 From Out There" by Leo Margulies, 1959

"To Outrun Doomsday" by Kenneth Bulmer, 1957

"Venus Stories" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1955


This topic in Science Fiction is one of the most familiar ones. As soon as scientists realized that life is a natural phenomenon, people started to question whether there was life on other planets. Although there isn’t extensive proof that there is life on other planets, people started writing novels about it and it sparked a curiosity in people.Some of these novels were about friendly visits from the visitors where they got along with humans. Other novels showed a different side, where these beings would be warlike and wanted to conquer everything around them. It is well documented that the first UFO sighting was in 1561 in Germany.No one can ever know for sure what the object was back then, but it just shows how people were curious about the unknown. Although this was the first documentation of this, people didn’t coin the term, flying saucer until 1950. The 1950s is when a string of science fiction novels on this subject came out and also when technology started to boom.

Other Terms

UFO: Unidetified Flying Object

Flying Saucer: A certain kind of space ship

Timeline of Probable Influences of Technology

*"1951": The first direct-dial transcontinental telephone call was made

*"1951": The largest television broadcast was made when President Harry Truman made a speech to 30 million people

*"1954": The solar cell was invented, first solar battery

*"1956": First Transoceanic telephone cables were formed

*"1958": The laser was invented



Parallel Worlds

Early Writers

Sideways in Time by Murray Leinster Novel (1934)

Lest Darkness Fall By L. Sprague De Camp Novel (1939)

Horsesense Hank in the Parallel Worlds by Nelson S. Bond Magazine (1942)

The Alteration by Kingsley Amis Novel (1976)

The Anubis Gates By Tim Powers Novel (1983)


Parallel Universe Parallel universe or alternate reality in science fiction and fantasy is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with our own

Other terms:

Multiverse (science) 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 futureis 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.

Early timeline

*1905: Albert Einstein Proposes Special theory of Relativity

*1905: Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity shows that space and time are relative, not absolute, and that time is actually a fourth dimension within what he calls "space-time."
*1916: Einstein discovers that space-time is curved.

*1920's: Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Dirac reformulate mechanics into Quantum Mechanics, based on the Uncertainty Principle.

*1922: Kaluza-Klein theory combined Einstein's General Relativity and Maxwell's electromagnetic field theory in 5 dimensions.

*1937: Mathematician Kurt Goedel proposes that the universe itself may be a time machine.

*1949: Goedel demonstrates mathematically that pathways through time are possible.

*1967: U.S. physicist John Wheeler invents the name "black hole" to describe singularities in space and time.


The notion of parallel worlds have always intrigued different types of genres, especially the Science Fiction aspect. Many authors have toiled with the idea of travelling back in to prehistoric times or traveling forwards to an unknown universe. The idea of entering a world that has not been touched or entering a world that has evolved into a new incomprehnsible 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.----


Mythology and folklore precursors

Many myths and legends include gods, spirits, angels, and demons that are often invisible or can choose to become invisible at will.
*One of the first stories to explore the idea of invisibility was in Plato’s "The Republic". A peasant finds a ring in the tomb of a dead king that allows him to become invisible. He enters the palace, seduces the queen, and plots to kill the present king, showing that power such as invisibility corrupts.
*Perseus, the Greek mythic hero who helped establish the Twelve Olympians, was equipped with a cap of invisibility to kill Medusa.

Early writers

*H. G. Wells wrote "Invisible Man" (1897) which was the first science fiction novel to explore the idea of invisibility. The invisible man is a scientist named Griffin who theorizes that if a person’s refractive index is changed to exactly that of air and his body does not absorb or reflect light, then he will not be visible. He successfully carries out this procedure on himself, but cannot become visible again, leading to mental instability.

*J.R.R. Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings" series which revolves around the function of a ring that renders the user invisible. Unfortunately, it had an evil influence with negative effects on the wearer's actions.

*Douglas Adams wrote "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (1978) novels which encompass a humorous concept of a field which makes people believe the object in question is "somebody else's problem" and therefore do not see it. This concept as explained in the book, bases off of a statement to the effect that actual invisibility is impossible and that the field is merely a way to make something close to being invisible by actually making it hard to notice deliberately.

*Philip K. Dick wrote in his 1974 novel A "Scanner Darkly" of a "scramble suit." This is a flexible sheath covering the body of the wearer with a reflective/refractive coating on the inside surface that transfers the camouflaging pattern- projected by a holographic lens mounted on the wearer's head- onto the outside surface of the sheath causing a camouflage-like 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.

Invisibility in Science Fiction:

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.

Invisibility in Fiction:

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. -Magic objects such as rings and cloaks can be worn to grant the wearer permanent invisibility. -Spells and potions can be used or cast upon people or objects granting temporary invisibility.

Timeline of possible influences

*1600's the refractive index was developed. Major advances near the end of the 1800s raised author's awareness

*1670's Emitting or reflecting light outside the wavelength range of visible light would result in a human-shaped black hole which would be completely opaque.

*1930s Chroma key began to develop which is the removal of color from one image to reveal another image "behind it." The removed color becomes transparent, which is also called "color keying."

*1938 Stealth technology began to develop. It is used with aircraft, ships, and missiles, in order to make them less visible to certain detection methods.
*2006 In some science fiction stories, a hypothetical "cloaking device" is used to make objects invisible. A team effort of researchers from Britain and the U.S announced the development of a real cloak of invisibility, though it is only in its first stages.


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.


David W. Ward and Keith A. Nelson: On the Physical Origins of the Negative Index of Refraction, New Journal of Physics, 7, 213 (2005).

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Ethics and Politics in The Republic

Phinney, Edward Jr. Perseus’ Battle with the Gorgons. University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1971.

Wells, H. G. The Invisible Man. C. Arthur Pearson. United Kingdom, 1897. ee also

* Multiverse (disambiguation)
* Alternate reality (disambiguation)
* Metaverse
* List of fictional robots and androids
* cloaking devise
* active camouflage
* Invisibility in fiction

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