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"Scanner" is a pretty commonly used term in science fiction stories. It's one of those terms, like "antigravity" or "blaster," that an author can use without any explanation. In 1977, its meaning was sufficiently well established that Philip K. Dick could spin it as wordplay in the title of A Scanner Darkly. It was also used in Star Wars without any comment.

However, it is not necessary to go back that much further, to find a time when the meaning did not seem to be so fully ingrained in the SF culture. Cordwainer Smith wrote "Scanners Live in Vain" in 1950, with a very different kind of "scanner"; the discrepancy in meaning was a bit weird when I first read the story.

So, I presume, that sometime between the 1950s and 1970s (not coincidentally, I suspect, an acme of science fiction writing), the term "scanner" came to have its now-standardized meaning. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of "any device for scanning or systematically examining all parts of something" can be dated back to 1927, but the earliest citations are basically compositional and refer to real-world, not SF, technologies. So at what point did the meaning become basically standardized in the genre?

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    At first I thought this was about the film Scanners and was a bit confused. – ApproachingDarknessFish Nov 5 '17 at 22:47
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    Wait, you ask when in sci-fi "scanner" became just a piece of hardware for scanning documents or other stuff? Well, I guess when such hardware became common, but what's the point of asking this? – Mithoron Nov 5 '17 at 23:10
  • @Mithoron actually, it's a fair question, I've wondered about this myself a few times before. – Mikasa Nov 6 '17 at 0:50
  • @Mithoron It's just something I've been curious about. – Buzz Nov 6 '17 at 1:04
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The best bet would seem to be, as usual, the original series of Star Trek; the timing fits.

  • PS: I'll delete if someone can find a prominent earlier usage. I tried a Google Books search, but it mostly came up with non-fiction. – Harry Johnston Nov 6 '17 at 7:13
  • I did find Stand by for Mars: A Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventure from 1954, but that was another real-world usage (a reference to radar, what most people nowadays would call a radar antenna.) – Harry Johnston Nov 6 '17 at 20:20
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1940: "The Dwindling Sphere", a short story by Willard Hawkins, first published in Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1940, available at the Internet Archive.

True, once the necessary adjustments have been made, they are recorded on microfilm. Thereafter, it is only necessary to feed this film into the control box, where the electric eye automatically makes all the adjustments for which the skill of the technician was initially required. Levinson, however, proposed to reproduce natural objects in plastoscene by photographic means.

It is this process which Philip apparently has perfected. His method involves a three-dimensional "scanning" device which records the texture, shape and the exact molecular structure of the object to be reproduced. The record is made on microfilm, which then needs only to be passed through the control box to recreate the object as many times as may be required.

"Think of the saving of effort!" Philip remarked enthusiastically. "Not only can objects of the greatest intricacy be reproduced without necessity of assembling, but even natural foods can be created in all their flavor and nourishing quality. I have eaten synthetic radishes — I have even tasted synthetic chicken — that could not be told from the original which formed its matrix."

"You mean," I demanded in some alarm, "that you can reproduce life?" His face clouded. "No. That is a quality that seems to elude the scanner. But I can reproduce the animal, identical with its live prototype down to the last nerve tip and hair, exeept, that it is inert — lifeless. The radishes I spoke of will not grow in soil — they cannot reproduce themselves — but chemically and in cell structure they image the originals."

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