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We're all familiar with the idea that science fiction often predicts science fact. But every once in a while the universe gets its wires so crossed that something we tend to think of as the far-fetched brainchild of some science fiction writer actually happened in the real world well before we ever saw it on a movie or TV screen.

Now, we're not saying that we're all inside The Matrix right now. (Psst! Yes, we totally are. Take the red pill. Or the blue pill. Take a bunch of pills! The Matrix!) We're just saying that ...

5The First Hacker Predates the First Computer

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The Sci-Fi Trope:

From WarGames to The Matrix and, um, Hackers? We guess? 3L337x0rz hackers have been sticking it to The Man ever since the Web was invented.


"Sticking it to The Man" just happens to be identical to "pissing everyone else off."

But Previously, in the Real World ...

One afternoon in June of 1903, John Ambrose Fleming and his boss, Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, were about to demonstrate Marconi's new high-tech wireless telegraph system to a crowded theater in London. But right before Fleming was scheduled to receive a wireless message from Marconi, the equipment started tapping out the word "rats" over and over, followed by the Edwardian era equivalent of a rap battle diss:

There was a young fellow of Italy
Who diddled the public quite prettily

Via Wikipedia
"Verily, I say 'Snap,' good sir."

And all the ladies swooned while the gentlemen got their flummox on, loudly exclaiming things like "I say!" and "Why I never!" Fleming and Marconi were understandably furious that someone would so lewdly interrupt their demonstration -- Marconi actually went on record describing it as "scientific hooliganism" (dibs on the Tumblr name!). But who could have possessed the resources and know-how to hack into wireless technology that had barely even been invented yet?

The answer came four days later when Nevil Maskelyne, a fabulously mustachioed magician whose grandson you may have heard of, confessed to the prank in a letter to The Times. When Marconi arrogantly started bragging about not only the efficacy but also the impenetrable security of his new wireless system, Maskelyne, being a proud member of his multigenerational anachronistic scientist/battle-magician bloodline, did the only reasonable thing: He promptly whipped up his own homemade radio tower and proceeded to hack into Marconi's "secure" signal.

Via Wikipedia
We don't know why, but we feel it's worth mentioning that he invented the pay toilet.

Maskelyne justified his actions by stating that he simply wanted to expose the security risks of the new wireless technology to the public -- which is basically word for word what modern hackers say when you ask them why they replaced every uppercase "I" on the CIA website with a crude cartoon dick. Funny, though: It seems so much more plausible coming from the smirking space directly beneath an old-timey magician's mustache than from the Twitter account of an acne-pocked teenager in Denmark.

4Charles Darwin Terraformed a Barren Island

Via Wikipedia

The Sci-Fi Trope:

From Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan to Aliens to Firefly, terraforming is a staple of most space-based science fiction. It's the process of taking barren, uninhabitable terrain and re-engineering it to support life. You know, like Detroit, but in reverse.

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And we're using the word "life" a little loosely.

But Previously, in the Real World ...

Ascension Island, plopped right smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa, was basically a barren volcanic rock, with minimal plant life and no fresh water supplies. But all that changed one day when Charles Darwin swung by the island during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and casually decided to make nature his bitch.

Darwin wanted to transform Ascension into a "Little England" -- because England is great and tiny things are hilarious -- but to do that, the island needed plant life to capture rain, prevent erosion and reduce evaporation. Plant life that it simply could not support. So Darwin looked up his closest friend: Joseph Hooker, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens and possessor of a neckbeard that remains unequaled to this very day ...

Via Wikipedia
He used to have a mustache, but then it moved up to live on his eyebrows.

Together, Darwin and Hooker kicked off an elaborate experiment in which they spent decades shipping every type of plant they could think of to the island, just to see what would take.

And shotgunning an island with random, invasive species not only didn't Jurassic Park back on their asses; it totally worked!

Today, instead of being a bare rock, Ascension Island hosts a tropical "cloud forest" of wholly incongruous non-native species like eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo and bananas. In mere decades, Big Pimpin' Darwin and his pal Lil' Hooker created a self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem that would have taken millions of freaking years to develop naturally through co-evolution.

Via Biologie.uni-hamburg.de
And we don't have time for that shit. We want our nature now.

Dr. David Wilkinson, who has spent many years studying Ascension, thinks that these principles could one day be used to transform colonies on Mars. In fact, if you want to get an idea of what the first space station on a freshly terraformed planet looks like, look no further than Ascension and the Deep Space Station that NASA built there in the 1960s:

Via Deepspace
Is that Aunt Beru's smoking corpse we smell?

So there you have it, folks. Let's start firing rockets full of palm trees at Mercury; we've figured this space shit out.

3The First Wireless Telephone Communication Happened Before Most People Had Wired Phones

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The Sci-Fi Trope:

It seems like a given in today's world, where kindergarteners spend most of recess bitching about the spotty service they get on the monkey bars, but wireless communication devices like Star Trek's communicators were once relegated to the same fictional space as death rays and time machines.

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"We've given him too much leeway. When he gets to the bottom, take his fucking head."

But Previously, in the Real World ...

Way back in 1880, Alexander Graham Bell and the unfortunately named Sumner Tainter first tested out Bell's new invention, the photophone, a device that used a series of mirrors, lenses and selenium crystals to wirelessly transmit voice signals via a beam of light. How Science is that shit?! It's like a cellphone that works via ray gun!

Via Wikipedia (US Public Domain)
It also doubled as a really complex bong.

Unfortunately, the device's range never extended beyond a few hundred yards, and it was way too susceptible to interference and James Bond attacks to be a viable method of communication ... problems that E.C. Hanson's wireless telephone from 1913 did not share. He used his invention to successfully make voice calls over a distance of 35 miles. There was just one little drawback -- Hanson's system consisted of an array of telephone poles and high-voltage wires strapped to a car. So no, sorry, he didn't really make the first functioning cellphone; he just invented the car phone almost a century in advance.

Via Popular Mechanics
"I don't know why, but I have a feeling that someday this invention's going to kill a ton of people."

We guess that's still technically impressive.

Sort of.

To guys with feathered bangs who wear suits with no socks, maybe.

2The Sum of All Human Knowledge Originally Existed on 3 x 5 Index Cards

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The Sci-Fi Trope:

The complete collection of all human knowledge, easily accessible at your fingertips. We have the Internet now, and not only all of human knowledge, but like 80 percent of all human wangs documented for easy access. But this has long been a science fiction staple -- from the Memory Alpha facility in the original Star Trek TV series to the Brain Spawn's Infosphere from Futurama.

Photos.com
Few people realize that the precursor to the Singularity is the Knowledgegasm.

But Previously, in the Real World ...

Way back in 1895, Belgian lawyer Paul Otlet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri LaFontaine had an idea: collect every bit of the world's knowledge, put it on 3 x 5 index cards (12 friggin' million of them, to be exact) and devise a system to make all that information easily accessible by anyone in the world.

So they convinced the Belgian government to support their efforts, hired a staff of librarians and set up shop. They called their creation the Mundaneum, presumably because they were well aware of how hard future steampunk nerds would dork their trousers over the name, and that was it: They invented the world's first search engine. Inquiries came in from all over the world via mail or telegraph -- more than 1,500 a year by some counts -- on basically any topic you could think of. If somebody wanted to know the Swahili word for boobies or which species of badger gave the least fucks, they sent in a request to the Mundaneum, which consulted its database and compiled an answer. It was sort of like Google, if Google collected your information via an intricate network of severe-looking women in petticoats.

Via Atlasobscura.com
Come index with us ... forever and ever and ever ...

Which ... it ... it doesn't, right? (We don't know how Google works. Magic seems most likely. Maybe some form of basketball genie?)

But Otlet didn't want to stop there. His ultimate vision was of a global network of "electric microscopes" that would allow people worldwide to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images and audio and video files. He even continued on to describe social networking, proposing to let users "participate, applaud, give ovations, [or] sing in the chorus." The guy stopped just short of calling out Facebook by name and warning people to keep their children away from Chatroulette, essentially.

Via Atlasobscura.com
"And this is where we keep the Grover Cleveland fan fiction."

Unfortunately, the Mundaneum encountered a series of financial troubles, multiple downsizes and a pesky infestation of Nazis, and soon was no more. Friggin' Nazis, man! It's like they hated the future, the short-sighted bastards. Well, except for the fact that ...

1You Could "Hail" People in Pre-WWII Germany

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The Sci-Fi Trope:

In the future, people never text or email or talk on the phone. If you're going to speak to someone who's not in the room with you, they pop up on a screen so you can stare right back at them and inquire as to the state of their tits. You can see this trope in Star Trek or Demolition Man or pretty much every other sci-fi movie ever. Nothing is shorthand for "the future" like flying cars and video phones.

Getty
The world really needs to learn some priorities.

But Previously, in the Real World ...

The world's first public videophone service was developed by Dr. Georg Schubert and opened by the German (uh oh) Post Office (phew, we thought we were going to say "Nazis" there). It linked Berlin and Leipzig all the way back in early 1936 and used the same coaxial cables that the Nazis used to distribute their propaganda all across Germany.

Well, crap.

Via Fernsehmuseum.info
"Heiling frequencies open, Hauptmann."

So ... good job, Nazis, we guess? Shit, we swore we were going to get through this week without praising the Third Reich again. Ah well, we'll put another quarter in the "human rights violation" jar.

The Gegenseh-telephone system used mechanical televisions to produce a real-time image of the head and shoulders of the operator. The feed supposedly possessed a 180-line resolution at 25 frames per second -- not too shabby, even when compared to early webcam technology. Over the next three years, the system was expanded to both Nuremberg and Munich. But Germany's public videophone system was eventually closed without much fanfare in 1940 (probably because of all those pesky bombs and genocides messing with the buffering), and so lonely perverts everywhere had to wait another half a century for the camgirls to emerge from their long chrysalis and flap their majestic boobies in mankind's collective face.

Via Vsee.com
Which is good, considering that's a woman in that shot.

So let's all play a tiny violin for the jilted Nazi sex fiends, shall we?

For more conventions that are old as dirt, check out 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think and 6 Depraved Sexual Fetishes That Are Older Than You Think.

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