4 Modern Technologies Predicted by Popular Dystopian Novels

It’s crazy how often Science Fiction novels predict futuristic technologies. Let’s take a look at 4 novels and the tech we have that’s similar to theirs.

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Dystopian novels are often known for containing futuristic technology as an aspect of their society. These technologies may serve to meet various ends, but they often play an integral role in the suffering of the inhabitants of these fictional societies. The novels featured in this article were written in the 20th and early 21st centuries, and contain a form of imagined technology that exists, in some capacity, today. While these inventions haven’t necessarily lead us to the same horrors experienced in these novels, this article may provide a moment of pause to consider the impacts of technological advancement.

1. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)

Technology: Bokanovsky Process

In the novel Brave New World, a vast majority of the world’s inhabitants are created in test tubes, divided many times into identical embryos (up to ninety-six, in perfect conditions) from one cell. These embryos are carefully selected for their DNA, divided into different social castes, and scientifically manipulated to produce what is viewed as the ideal member for each social caste. Once grown, each person undergoes extensive behavioral conditioning in order to grow into this ideal citizen.

Left: Brave New World book cover, white and red with humans in red test tubes. Right: Clipart of scientists on microscope and observing DNA model.-technologies-dystopian-novels-genetic-engineering-robots-smartphone-futuristic

The first genetic clone was created in 1996; it was a sheep named Dolly. Unlike the inhabitants of Brave New World, while Dolly began her growth in a test tube, she ultimately required a surrogate mother in order to facilitate her growth and birth. Another gene editing technology that has gained a lot of traction since the 2010s is known as CRISPR. In simple terms, this technology allows for the ability to cut and paste DNA sequences into one’s cells—though the actual science is much more complex than that. This technology is based on a naturally occurring process in bacteria that is used to fight infections and has been adapted for various purposes within the scientific and medical community.

As of the writing of this article, there are no known recorded attempts to clone humans. However, the current CRISPR gene editing technology has been used to edit human genomes—primarily as experiments in treating clinical diagnoses and harmful genetic mutations. Nevertheless, the technology to create a genetic clone is out there. Between cloning technologies and CRISPR gene editing, what many have feared would lead to a boom of “designer babies,” we’re not so far as we may think from putting the Bokanovsky process into effect.

2. 1984, George Orwell (1949)

Technology: Telescreen

The earliest ancestor of modern television was invented in 1927. Television became widely commercialized and disseminated into homes by the 1950s. Since then, television production and consumption have greatly risen, and most modern homes would be considered incomplete without one.

During the late 1940s, while Orwell was writing his novel, he was certainly aware of television, and its influence is clear within the novel’s omnipresent telescreen. In the novel, the telescreen is integral to Party surveillance and control. It is able to record the visual and auditory activity of the observer while also transmitting audio and video. However, televisions did not always have the surveillance capabilities that Orwell wrote about in his time.

Left: 1984 book cover, red with eyeball. Right: Man sitting on couch watching smart TV.-technologies-dystopian-novels-genetic-engineering-robots-smartphone-futuristic

The first models of smart televisions arrived in the early 2000s, originally referred to as Internet TVs. Today, a staple of many popular smart televisions is a microphone. This feature is often included to allow users to search titles by audio or is meant to function in ways akin to Siri and Alexa and may even be linked to one of the two. Additionally, there are many smart TVs out there with both camera and microphone capabilities. While I don’t necessarily intend to insinuate that the government is spying on us through our televisions, it is no secret that we currently have the technology that would make it possible.

3. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953)

Technology: Mechanical Hounds

One of the most fear-evoking images in Fahrenheit 451 is its Mechanical Hounds. These hounds, made of pure metal and wires, are capable of storing and cataloging thousands of different scents and contain a needle that allows them to inject different substances into their victims. It has other features that can be weaponized in order to aid the fire department in the novel. Unlike our society, this fire department is tasked with burning and destroying things, books in particular, rather than saving anyone from the flames.

Left: Fahrenheit 451 book cover with black book that is also a matchbox. Right: Yellow robotic dog.-technologies-dystopian-novels-genetic-engineering-robots-smartphone-futuristic

Seleno the Electric Dog, which did not much resemble an actual dog, is one of the earliest self-directing robots. It was able to process light and follow people around on its own. However, the first widespread use of robotic animals can be attributed to toy manufacturers beginning in the late 20th century. You might remember AIBO, Sony’s robotic dog companion, or the colorful and fun iDog by Sega Toys that arrived some years later.

Since the days of AIBO, robotic dogs have been developed for many other uses. Since 2020, the United States Army has begun utilizing robot dogs as a way of collecting and sharing data during combat. While these dogs do not directly attack or contain any automatic weaponry, they are proven to be able to provide data in real time, which directly leads to more effective attacks. There also exist robots with biological sensors that are capable of processing and identifying smells in ways that are similar to, if not more effective than, actual dogs.

4. Feed, M.T. Anderson (2002)

Technology: the Feed

While the invention of the internet and social media predates the publishing of Feed and the invention of modern smartphones, the way in which humans engage with those technologies has changed drastically as a result of the latter inventions. In M.T. Anderson’s novel Feed, it is a staple for all Americans who can afford the price tag to have their children implanted with chips in their brains from birth. This chip and its technology are referred to as the Feed, and it essentially acts as a smartphone that is wired to your brain and limbic system rather than held in the palm of your hand.

Earlier versions of the smartphone had existed before, but the world we know today seems to have been born that fateful January day in 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone.

Left: Feed book cover with bald yelllow head overlayed with colors. Right: iPhone 14 and 14 Pro photo.-technologies-dystopian-novels-genetic-engineering-robots-smartphone-futuristic

With the feed, the inhabitants of this dystopian America have constant access to social media, the world wide web, and any and all purchasing needs. When you think about it that way, it’s not terribly different from the constant access afforded to us by our smartphones. The Feed eliminates the need for an external physical interface, leaving no time gap between desire and gratification, but having everything a few taps away functions largely to the same effect.

There are scenes in the novel where the characters utilize m-chat, a messenger application within the feed, which allows them to communicate without speaking or even looking at each other—despite being in the same room. I’m sure this is a scene you may recognize if you’ve ever seen a group of teenagers in public all sitting together but staring down at their phones, or if you’re like me, you may even notice times when you’re being one of them in spite of yourself.

In any case, the Feed from the novel, when evaluated for its abilities and consequences, does not seem all that different from the modern smartphone. Furthermore, the social and consumerist culture that arose as a result of the Feed may not be as hyperbolic of a picture of society as we might think.

While these technologies haven’t exactly led to the same nightmare scenarios in the real world as they have in dystopian novels, it is certainly interesting to consider what these technologies make mankind capable of. In any case, I hope I can at least encourage my readers to be mindful of their technology use and consumption and maybe motivate you all to spend some time away from the screen.

Unless, of course, you’re using it to check out some more awesome content on Bookstr, like my last article on dystopian novels here!