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
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
"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.
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
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.
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 ...
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.
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:
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.