How to Write About State-of-the-Art Tech Before it’s Invented

Truth isn’t just stranger than fiction — it’s faster. In a spy novel I wrote in 2007, I created what was then a futuristic million-volt stun gun disguised as an iPhone. Today, you can buy a 3.5 million volt iStun online for $30.510ki2dFMlL._SY300_

A covert operations officer in the same novel deployed a miniature unmanned aerial vehicle (a.k.a. drone) that in real life could be seen only on drawing boards, at least in declassified circles. In 2009, a German company offered a similar drone to anyone with $40,000. A year later, I bought a new French version of the same drone for $300 at a mall.

For my subsequent spy book, hoping to incorporate gadgetry that stayed futuristic past pub date, I interviewed an array of intelligence agency personnel — ranging from a temp at the N.S.A. to a director of the C.I.A. — and I visited several military installations, including Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, which is to drones what Silicon Valley is to the device with which you’re reading this. “Just imagine tech twenty years into the future, and we have it now,” a CIA officer told me.

Still, the consensus was that technology’s advance is so head-spinning that the only way to imagine its future is to devise a way to predict the future.

Which happens to be exactly where technology is heading.

Espionage has always centered on ascertaining the other side’s plans. C.I.A. drones now drop undetectable “smart dust” particles that adhere to a human target, enabling intelligence officers halfway around the world to track him. Given ultraminiaturization trends, it’s just a matter of time before the dust particles also provide audio and video. Not long after that, possibly, the dust will monitor electrical impulses from the target’s brain too, converting them into a transcript of his thoughts. Or maybe an intelligence service will invent a way of collecting the same intel via an invisible beam fired from a satellite (that’s the size of a grape).

Alternatively, an advance in bioelectromechanics combining human DNA and technology could effectively broadcast the target’s thoughts 24/7/365 — and influence his thinking to boot. And eventually, perhaps, software that forecasts world events will reach the point that it acts as a digital crystal ball, rendering spy versus spy passé and leaving us to write hard drive versus hard drive.


3 thoughts on “How to Write About State-of-the-Art Tech Before it’s Invented

  • Lee Lamond

    As an engineer who in retirement has turned writer, I have witnessed both the explosion of ideas and the ability of man to easily produce the final form in his garage like never before. No longer do things evolve slowly, but are now part of a wild race with product life cycles measured in weeks. In both of my novels, I have tried to increase the readers interest by bringing to the story, technology that is new and plausible so that the story is real without becoming science fiction, not that there is anything wrong with that. Within the world of “modern day plausible” there is more than enough. With forty five years of industrial experience I can guarantee that you ain’t seen nothing yet. So when thinking of the future, think wild and crazy, and if possible support the effort by at least making it appear real unless you want to cross over into science fiction and ask the reader to believe on faith. Powering a space ship with polarized carborundum crystals might work (I just made that up), but l think that it is more real if you mention thrust levels, heat control using molten salts, radiation levels, vibration problems when engine pulse frequency approaches the resident frequency of the engine containment structure. Just one man’s opinion.

  • Tom Avitabile

    Yet another topic really close to my heart. In fact, the title of my blog is ‘It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens! It is based on similar “prescience” experiences I have had from my Screenplays “revealing” stealth technology, embedded ID electronic chips, Laser Rail Cannons and EMP back in 1982, through all the NSA nastiness, Mapping of the Human Brain, 9/11 all the way to Long Stop 1, which we are all in the middle of right now. (See: LHC at Cern – for more on Long Stop 1 or check out my current release, The God Particle.) In fact, there’s a nifty T-Shirt I use as give-a-ways with “It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens” emblazoned across them.

    The trick to PRE – SCIENCE is to guess right. It’s that simple. Or maybe that complicated, in that I was allowed to peek over the technological horizon back in ’92 as part of my work for the House Committee on Science Space and Technology. Most of what I saw baking in those classified labs back then, is now in almost anybody’s kid’s hands right now. I was able to cobble together some of the bigger notes into plot points that generated phone calls from the press like, “You wrote about this a year ago!”

    I have to admit, it’s cooler than cool when that happens.

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