Science fiction literature has inspired a (to me) surprising number of technological innovations that have actually been created. Of course, not all technology was inspired by science fiction, and some has been merely popularized by science fiction after being brought to light in the scientific community. It is surprising to me that other pieces of existing technology have not really been mentioned significantly in science fiction despite their large or probably large effect on our future.

The following is an attempt at listing inventions and the fiction that may have inspired them...

The first item that usually comes to people's mind is the cell phone, which is now available in models smaller than the original Star Trek communicator. I suppose the even older wristwatch communicator predates Star Trek; while this is possible (and exists), it has not gained popularity.

Jules Verne was probably the first popular author whose wild speculation came true. His most famous inventions were the submarine and space travel. His fiction probably inspired many young scientists, and even some movies.

Arthur C. Clarke claims to have invented the artificial satellite in one of his short stories. He is widely credited with discovering the geosynchronous orbit used by many communication satellites.

Star Wars may have been a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, but its name has been abused as a label for "futuristic" Reagan era space weapons. This is probably because Star Wars brought to more people more technology dreams than any other single movie, and so was a handy label. Who knows if droids, blasters, x-wings and the rest will ever be built, but I'm sure someone will try. There are already a surprising number of high tech lightsaber mock ups.

Electronic paper and its variants are currently being developed by a large number of companies. In this case, it appears that research preceded science fiction, although neither the product nor the application are yet commercially available.

Transparent aluminum, suggested by Star Trek is a possibility. As we explore the structure of matter, and the nature of transparency of materials, perhaps eventually we will discover a metal alloy with this property. Tokyo Institute of Technology accidently discovered a semiconductor that is transparent, so why not discover an actual metal too... (News Flash! This exists now!)

Warp drive or hyperdrive is a main stay of science fiction but there is current active theoretical work being done on it now. While the warp drive is purely theoretical, the thrust from an ion drive is quite realistic, and has recently been tested.

Fuel cells have been used by NASA since the early days of the US space program, but were never mentioned in science fiction, and are only now showing promise of becoming available commercially.

Rapid prototyping is a technology that has been around for at least 10 years, and may lead into things such as the Star Trek replicator or The Diamond Age matter compiler in another 50 years or so.

Cold fusion was purportedly discovered in the lab, but the news was leaked before it could be properly verified, and is now doomed to underground research.

Nanotechnology conceptualised by Richard P. Feynman is another current hot topic of research that has been mentioned in many stories. The carbon nanotube may be the critical material needed to create the space elevator described in Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise and Robinson's Red Mars, as soon as we can figure out how to make them long enough. Star Trek has also made multiple weak uses of nanotechnology. Also many current commercial products use the precursor to nanotechnology under the label MEMS.

The Universal Translator from Star Trek may some day soon exist! Attempts so far include the internet Babel Fish and others. To date, these make a valiant attempt to translate, but are far from perfect. The greatest failing is caused by the lack of a one to one correspondence between words in different languages. A true universal translator will need an AI behind it good enough to semantically puzzle out the languages, rather than just trying simple word and phrase recognition and translation.


This list is (of course) not comprehensive. I'll add to it as I find more. /msg me or add your own writeup if you think I missed some.