Patrick Hemstreet’s debut novel The God Wave paints a thrilling and frightening future for readers. Two friends at John Hopkins University uncover a way for humans to mentally connect with the technology around them. Naturally, a devious group wants to harness this skill for themselves. With smart TVs entering our homes and tiny computers in our hands at all times, this technology doesn’t seem that far off. And maybe it isn’t. Hemstreet, a neuroscientist himself, put together a list of sci-fi books that predicted future technologies in surprising ways.
I enjoyed nearly a two-decade long career in the applied science of neurodiagnostics. True, this specialty in and of itself is not a dynamic ingredient for the creation of gripping fiction. After all, when was the last time you read the sizzling title Nerve Conduction Studies of Sith Lords? Or the very gripping Transcranial Electric Motor Evoked Potentials… In Space? That said, neuroscience is a marvelous building block that allows the author to travel in many fantastic directions. When a story’s foundation is built upon the fecund earth of neuroscience, an exciting read is sure to bloom.
Typically these stories foray into subjects such as brain-to-machine interface (the newly dubbed “transhumanism”) or the mystical and metaphysical. Because we are just beginning to cross the threshold of the mind/brain study, neurosci-fi needs a leap into the speculative realm. I’m sure that many share the view that a good deal of today’s speculative science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact.
These five neuroscience-centric books were ahead of their time; and frankly, I am astonished at what they prophesied.
I would be derelict in my duties if I did not lead the list off with what is perhaps the most well-known—and rightfully so—author of hard science-fiction, the spectacular Michael Crichton. What’s amazing about The Terminal Man is the fact that Crichton foresaw the use of what he termed “brain pacemakers” to treat seizure disorders—in the ‘70s! This technology is used today; the devices are referred to as neurostimulators. A cursory Google search will reveal that most descriptions of these implants will describe them as a type of—you guessed it—brain pacemaker. He was a genius!
Neuro-prophecy meter: This one goes to 11 for hitting the bullseye of sheer prophetic power.
Robin Cook is another giant of hard science-fiction. Brain explores the possibility of brain-to-computer interfacing. In Dr. Cook’s novel, what seems like benign medical research is revealed to be a sinister and evil plan. Said evil plan involves removing the titular organ from pitiable victims. Robin Cook was doing mind-machine interface before it was cool—he made it cool (and incredibly believable).
Artificial intelligence and “mind uploading” are serious and arguably attainable pursuits in today’s scientific arena. Tech billionaire Dmitry Itskov has gone as far to make the claim that in 30 years’ time our minds can meld with a computer, creating a type of immortality. Chew on that!
Neuro-prophecy meter: This too goes to 11 for prophetic vision.
Arthur C. Clarke’s work is near and dear to my heart. Although this work is a short story, I am compelled to add it to the list.
Imagine if the brainwaves in an EEG could reveal not only disease, but pleasure and happiness. What if you could apply those findings to create the most perfect (and salable) music? That’s exactly what the characters in Ultimate Melody attempt to accomplish.
The antiquated “pen and paper” EEGs Clarke was familiar with could not have uncovered this elusive tune. However, we now have brain mapping or QEEG technology which could evolve into something that can. The idea of using objective measures via neurodiagnostics to garner this data really was ahead of its time. This type of cutting edge work is why we all know and love Clarke.
Neuro-prophecy meter: 9. Old-timey EEGs could not have done this, but we may be on the verge of gaining technology that can.
Alexander Belyaev’s tale was published in 1925. This story deals with head transplants and quite possibly inspired the head-in-jar antics of Futurama.
This past April it was announced that Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero will attempt the world’s first human head transplant. I will repeat that Alexander Belyaev’s tale was published way back in 1925. Of course, the technology needed to keep a human head alive is far off in our future (if attainable at all). From his limited vantage point in early twentieth century Russia, Belyaev’s visions of human head transplantation must have been acquired via the use of his personal time machine. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Neuro-prophecy meter: 8. While live-head-in-jar technology is unlikely, let’s hope the good Dr. Canavero makes history.
Joan Slonczewski’s novel, published in 2000, is probably the most unique of the mix. She is a trained microbiologist and in that sense the subject matter is apropos. In Slonczewki’s work, a race of alien microbes attempts to control human minds for the purposes of a galactic colonial expansion.
As far as we know intergalactic mind controlling microbe empires are non-existent, but we are just beginning to attempt to understand the effects of the microbiome on the human psyche. The science behind this type of study is very intriguing. That Slonczewki was so far ahead of this curve is utterly astonishing and impressive. I hope my language “to attempt to understand” was not lost; we are just starting to scratch the surface of neuro-microbiologic studies. Brain Plague dealt with this topic over a decade ago.
Neuro-prophecy meter: 10 for uniqueness and uncanny insight.
Patrick Hemstreet is a novelist, neuro-engineer, entrepreneur, patent-pending inventor, special warfare-trained Navy medic, standup comic, and actor. He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and sons. The God Wave is his first novel.