Technological Influences on Early Science Fiction

1189 WordsJun 23, 20185 Pages
Science fiction is filled with a wide variety of technologies. Sometimes the technology presented is merely a transposition of existing technologies into the story. At other times, the author takes existing technologies and extrapolates potential novel technology with uncanny accuracy. In both cases, existing technologies have an obvious impact upon the author. Written during the first generation of electronic computers, Starman Jones (1953) and "A Logic Named Joe" (1946) provide excellent examples of both these cases. The first generation of electronic computers was characterized by hulking monstrosities of tubes and wires, housed in metal. The first programmable electronic computer was Colossus. Completed in 1943, Colossus contained…show more content…
The computer is unable to perform complex calculations, such as trigonometry, logarithms or decimal to binary conversion. The various charts for these calculations are maintained in a multitude of volumes of tables and conversions. Data is entered into the computer via a series of keys depressed to represent a binary value, like the Manchester "Baby", and switches to commit the current value. Output is also in binary form and must be interpreted from a series of lights, off or on, indicating the value, also like the Manchester "Baby". The personnel required to operate this computer seems to vary from three to seven, including astrogators (to plot the course through the stars), chartsmen (to interpret the charted course into binary) and computermen (to input the binary into the computer). This resembles the team of six women employed to program ENIAC. It is clear that Heinlein drew upon the computers of his time as a model for the ship's computer. Where Heinlein merely transposes existing technologies, Murray Leinster uses it as a starting point for extrapolation. The future technology of the "logic" in "A Logic Named Joe" is a very accurate depiction of modern personal computers. Leinster's logic was likely influenced by recent developments in telecommunications, including the videophone and automatic telephone switching stations, as well as the increasingly

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