In 1982, TSR released a science-fiction role-playing game called Star Frontiers.  The rules weren’t great, but I loved the campaign world – so much that I recently started running a new game for my kids using the Star Frontiers universe and the Mutants and Masterminds rules. 

While re-reading the 1982 books, I was amused to see that that one of SF‘s “futuristic” devices is already obsolete in the real world.  It’s called a “chronograph/communicator.”


The Basic Game Rules explains:

This device looks
like a large wristwatch, but it can do many things. It is a watch with
a lighted face that can be used as a stopwatch; it is a mini-calculator;
it is a radio/video communicator that can be used to talk with other characters
up to 5 kilometers away. It can be used to summon the police or a rental
skimmer, as well.

5 km away!  Can you believe it?

I was also amused by the SF ID card:


All characters carry an ID card.
An ID card can be used only by its owner, because the computers which read
ID cards also scan the character’s thumbprint.

ID cards are commonly used as credit cards. When
a character buys something, his ID card must be inserted into a computer.
He places his thumb (or paw, or digit, or pseudopod) on a screen so the
character can verify his identity, and then the money is deducted automatically
from the character’s bank account. This same process is used to pay for
monorail rides and rented skimmers. Money can be deposited into an account
without the card, but the card is needed to get money out.

OK, thumbprint ID cards aren’t common yet, but in 1982 buying stuff by inserting cards into computers seemed almost as remote as personal jetpacks.  But thanks to three decades of economic growth, my kids take digital money for granted, because they’ve never known a world that worked any other way.

Question for Geeks: Which SF device is coming to the real world next?  The poly-vox is my pick.

A poly-vox is a specialized computer that can be worn

around the throat. It translates a message that it hears in one language

into another language, and then repeats it. It can learn an unknown

language if it can be programmed with key phrases, and then exposed

to the language for 1-100 hours (see Language). A character does not

need computer skill to use a poly-vox.

P.S. Pictures are taken from Star Frontiers: Basic Game Rules (copyright 1982 TSR Hobbies).