Take Inspector Gadget, for instance. Despite originally airing in the early '80s and having a shamelessly implausible cartoon premise, the cartoon managed to correctly predict more trends in the modern world than most serious speculative fiction novels.
#5. Gadget's Niece Invented The iPad Before Steve Jobs
30 years ago:
The whole point of Inspector Gadget was that they lived in a world full of technology that was utterly insane, to the point of being ridiculous and/or useless. Every gag could be boiled down to, "Can you imagine if they made a little helicopter that deployed out of your hat? How fucking ridiculous would that be!" Well, in 1983, one of those insane "can you even imagine?" gadgets belonged to the Inspector's niece, Penny, whose futuristic "computer book" of her own invention had video-chatting, a giant database where she could look up practically anything and, most impressively, a display with more than three colors.
It even had a USB port, apparently.
In case you weren't around back then, this is what a "personal computer" looked like back in 1983 -- they were called "personal" because they actually fit inside the house.
So, not only was Penny's computer book smaller and more potent than anything that existed (or we believed would ever exist), but also she could use it to control other machines -- sometimes without even touching them -- thus foiling Dr. Claw's plans.
"That Kim Possible bitch ain't got shit on me."
That little gizmo actually solved more crimes than Gadget himself.
Unless you print out our articles to read them in the toilet, there's a huge chance you're looking at a device much like Penny's computer book right now. Between wireless connections, laptops that close like books and tablets the size of a magazine, the computer book doesn't seem as science fiction-y now as it did in 1983.
In fact, if you showed it to a teenager now they'd probably say "What the fuck is a book?"
What's interesting is that 1983 is also the year when, according to a recently unearthed talk, a young Steve Jobs talks about some of the stuff Apple would like to do in the future and ended up predicting several modern developments, including Wi-Fi, the iTunes store, and of course, the iPad. In fact, he actually says the words "We want to put an incredibly great computer in a book you can carry around with you ..."
Now, Jobs gave this talk a few months before Inspector Gadget first aired, so unless he had friends at DiC Entertainment, he probably wasn't directly inspired by Penny's signature tech. That doesn't change the fact that a freaking cartoon accidentally managed to introduce the world to his greatest invention 27 years before he did.
There's more: In 2001, DiC produced a revival called Gadget and the Gadgetinis, in which the Inspector receives several tinier versions of himself, each from a different color ...
Each one has 1/4th of his IQ, so they're legally dogs.
Wait a minute, the Inspector Gadget "model" now comes in smaller versions in a variety of colors? Holy shit! The show predicted the iPod Nano too, first introduced in 2005.
#4. It Predicted We Would Trust GPS Over Our Own Senses
30 Years Ago:
So Inspector Gadget actually had two basic jokes that were repeated over and over: "Gadget sure is a moron" and "Gadget's gadgets sure malfunction a lot." The following clip from the episode "Monster Lake" is a combination between those two things:
In the scene, Gadget lets the Gadget Mobile drive itself while he sits back and relaxes. However, the evil Dr. Claw manipulates the car's advanced navigation system by replacing a road sign in front of it, thus tricking the Gadget Mobile into driving itself off a cliff.
Years later, The Office would borrow this timeless gag.
Self-driving cars are nothing new in fiction, but Gadget's attitude about them is what's significant here. He remains unperturbed even as the car spins out of control at a great speed and finally launches itself into the air. He just trusts that technology will always have his back.
"Don't worry, Penny, I'm a robot, remember? It's just you and your dog who'll die."
Gadget and Penny still land safely on the ground, of course, because they are in an experimental shape-shifting car capable of withstanding almost anything. Not everyone has one of those, unfortunately.
Yes, this has now happened. More than once. One driver in England was left "teetering on a cliff edge" because the GPS told him to keep driving and he just did it.
"It told me to 'ramp that shit'. I shouldn't have hesitated."
In Bedford Hills, NY, two drivers, in the same city, in the same year, both got their cars stuck on the train tracks because their GPS assured them it was actually a road and they tried to treat it as such. Both cars got hit by the oncoming train when the train tried to treat the tracks like train tracks. The drivers weren't harmed, but they were both quick to blame the machine itself for the accident (as opposed to their own carelessness), so maybe they won't be so lucky the next time this inevitably happens.
But, hey -- at least the train tracks somewhat resemble a road, if you have severe eye problems. It's not as though they drove into the freaking ocean. Unlike these guys:
Earlier this year, three Japanese students vacationing in Australia followed their GPS into the Pacific Ocean as they tried to reach Stradbroke Island. The driver's explanation was that "It told us we could drive down there," and apparently neither him nor his friends thought that was weird. So, there you have it -- what some cartoon writers considered a far-fetched, intentionally ridiculous bit of slapstick has now become a reality.
#3. Teenagers Know More About Computers Than Trained Professionals
30 Years Ago:
As we mentioned before, Inspector Gadget's niece, Penny, and her iPad tended to be the one to save the day in most of the episodes, despite her uncle's name being the one on the name of the show. She's brave, resourceful, and more tech-savvy than even her part-robot Uncle.
Perhaps because her brain hadn't been replaced by a helicopter engine.
Penny isn't the only smart kid in this show: In the episode "Japanese Connection," Dr. Claw steals the world's most advanced computer chip and brings it to his Japanese counterpart, Ichi Waruta-san. Penny breaks into the bad guy's castle, digitally transfers the specs to her Japanese friend, Atsuko, and she manages to make a "anti-chip" while Gadget is busy fucking around with sumo wrestlers or some bullshit like that.
"Man, and I thought our cartoons make no sense."
Now let's consider the other major adult character in the show, Chief Quimby, Gadget's superior who somehow manages to get his own self-destructing messages to blow up on his face at the beginning of every episode.
"Fool me once shame on you ... Fool me 7,453,643-- "
It's like the show is set in a world where kids have a better hang on modern technology than adults.
As the thousands of teenagers who keep having to explain to their parents how to "get the Nintendo to play Matlock" know very well, nowadays, children tend to be as much or more tech-savvy than their parents. A study made in 10 countries found that most kids aged 11 have "adult skills when it comes to technology" -- a different UK-based study concluded that 70 percent of parents of 12-15 year olds think that their kids know more about the Internet than they do.
"-- so you turn off 'safe-search', type 'busty+asian', and boom! Now you try, Dad."
But this is only natural, since these kids grew up surrounded by technology and had a head-start in learning it. It's the same reason why the children of the '70s are still the undisputed experts in operating broomstick horsies. However, it goes further than that: Just as Penny was able to outsmart a criminal mastermind like Dr. Claw in every episode, today a teenager has single-handedly stayed ahead of the biggest tech company in the world.
However, his dog sidekick mostly stays home and licks itself.
Starting in 2010, then 17-year old Nicholas Allegra managed to hack pretty much every new Apple product as soon as it was released, allowing users to install any app they wanted just by visiting the site jailbreakme.com -- if you've ever "jailbroken" your iPhone or iPad, it was probably thanks to him. Apple tried to put a stop to it by blocking the website and fixing the vulnerabilities he was exploiting, but their highly-paid team of experts just couldn't keep up with a teenager.
Eventually, Apple gave up and brought the hacker in as an intern. If Dr. Claw had only thought of that, he probably could have gotten rid of Gadget in about 15 minutes.