Considering the internet has substantially revolutionized our way of life (you're using it right now in fact) I was wondering whether it was ever envisaged in science fiction. I'm therefore inquiring as to what the first reference in a science fiction story is where there are computers of some description (not necessarily digital, but devices which serve the same functions as computers do for us today) connected with access to the data on each device or to a central server and can communicate via this over long (even global/planet-to-planet) distances. Basically, what is the first reference in sci-fi to a system like today's internet?

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    @user14111 the technologies referred to in The Machine Stops is completely acceptable. If you can find anything like this which predates The Machine Stops that would be even better! Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 6:46
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    Possible duplicate of this question?
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 7:19
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    @aslum Hyperion's Internet equivalent was the "All Thing"; the WorldWeb was the farcaster (≈teleporter) network. Although Hyperion was published in 1989, at which point the Internet already existed.
    – user41830
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:37
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    I'm not going to flesh this into a full answer, but the viewscreens from 1984 have some similarities. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 22:23
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    So what about Mark Twain's short story from The 'London Times' of 1904 where he described the telelectroscope? Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:14

9 Answers 9


I've read The Machine Stops a few times, and I don't think it's quite similar enough to the internet. There, the humans live within a giant machine. But the internet is a network of machines. For something a little closer, I think, I'd go with Murray Leinster's "A Logic Named Joe." from March 1946. You can find it for free from the Baen Free Library.

In A Logic Named Joe, every house has a Logic (a computer with a screen) which accesses a network of information for the home user. The Logic is not a mere terminal, it communicates and interacts with the network. When something goes wrong with one particular Logic, the network becomes compromised, and other Logics are infected. People find themselves getting answers for questions that shouldn't be answered and accessing things they aren't supposed to. For example, people asking how to get away with murder, and kids accessing adult programming coughcough.

Thus in one story we have a computerized network, a network virus, network security, computers in the home, and internet porn. I can't think of a better example of the internet.

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    That definitely sounds like the modern Internet LOL! All that's missing are funny cat pictures.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 14:04
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    @Omegacron your comment almost makes me want to ask if any SF stories predicted sharing funny cat pictures.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 23:38
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    @Zoredache, Funny cat pictures predate the internet. And if you aren't being too fussy you could even blame the egyptians.
    – hildred
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 17:02
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    @Omegacron Wait, there's CAT pictures?
    – Dirk v B
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 5:50
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    @Zoredache - its not predictive, having been published way too late for that, but is however extremely good, so I'll strongly recommend "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer (which was published in Clarkesworld in 2015, so should be available in their archives somewhere).
    – Jules
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 14:54

One of the earliest examples of something similar, and one often hailed as the earliest mention of many modern concepts, is E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops from 1909.

The story envisions a post-apocalyptic world where the surface has been made uninhabitable and people reside in tiny cells inside a huge underground complex overseen by The Machine. The machinery provides them with the means of communicating with other people - both letters and voice and video calls, and provides access to information and media.

Forster's story is remarkably prescient, and touches on themes that are popular also in modern reactions to the internet and social networks. Its main protagonists live on the opposite sides of the world but communicate instantly, with one character resenting the alienation resulting from no physical contact.

It being over a century old, the full text is available, freely and without copyright.

A note: in the Wikipedia entry, it is mentioned that:

In the preface to his Collected Short Stories (1947), Forster wrote that "The Machine Stops is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of H. G. Wells."

This might indicate that an earlier H.G.Wells story might touch on similar issues and be an earlier example, but I don't know which story Forster was referring to.

  • I'd hazard the Morlocks from Time Machine.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 9:35
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    “It being over a century old, the full text is available, freely and without copyright.” — It being over a century old, and not previous owned by Disney. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 12:46
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    @PaulD.Waite don't give them any ideas ;) Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 15:08
  • Anything first published before 1923 is in the Public Domain in the US. Disney is no exception to this. Steamboat Willy, Mickey Mouse's first appearance was in 1928.
    – Martijn
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 13:35
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    @Martijn Indeed, but I guess Paul was referencing the fact that the american legislation seems to be changed accordingly. Not that long ago, 70 years or even 50 years were the limit. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 8:56

I'm not sure if it's close enough to qualify, but Jules Verne's "Paris in the 20th Century" (1863) describes electrically-powered mechanical calculators which can send messages to each other.

Mark Twain's short story "From the 'London Times' of 1904" (1898) describes a worldwide network of "telelectroscopes" by which "the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues."

Here is a a description of a character using it from the story:

Day by day, and night by night, he called up one corner of the globe after another, and looked upon its life, and studied its strange sights, and spoke with its people.

He seldom spoke, and I never interrupted him when he was absorbed in this amusement. I sat in his parlour and read and smoked, and the nights were very quiet and reposefully sociable, and I found them pleasant. Now and then I would hear him say, 'Give me Yedo[Tokyo]'; next, 'Give me Hong-Kong'; next, 'Give me Melbourne.' And I smoked on, and read in comfort, while he wandered about the remote under-world, where the sun was shining in the sky, and the people were at their daily work. Sometimes the talk that came from those far regions through the microphone attachment interested me, and I listened.

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    This is very good... not as close to the internet as the examples mentioned in other answers, but I'd bet there are other related examples out there, making up a timeline of the development of the concept of a communications network.
    – recognizer
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 15:16
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    @recognizer OP did specify "first reference" in bold letters. So far we've been given 3 examples, each separated by 40ish years. This 19th century previsioning is a remarkable submission. I suppose it's up to the OP to pick his tipping point between "early" and "like".
    – tjd
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:09
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    @tjd Oh, I'd like to see as many related examples as possible. Where all they fit on the timeline is perhaps even more valuable as a resource than the identity of the "most internet-like" fictional example.
    – recognizer
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 19:09
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    "the remote under-world" sounds like Twain had a truly prescient view of the internet. +1
    – Dacio
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 22:20
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    At risk of diminishing the prognosticating power of the authors, consider the development of the electric telegraph (proposed 1753, first regular operation 1833 over a distance of 1km, started to be laid along British railway lines in the 1840s, US east-west coasts connected 1861). So a prediction from 1863 of electrical communication between all homes isn't completely out of left field, it's clever attention to a real technical development. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 9:16

Ernst Jünger's Heliopolis (1949) describes something like smart phones with the Phonophor and something like Wikipedia appears in the (sort-of) sequel Eumeswil (1977).

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    Good answer, but a link to either the author or the story would improve it.
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 1:32

Brunner, John - "Shockwave Rider" 1975 - A really prescient view of many aspects of today's web. Even includes a foreview of a Google-like entity. Predates some web aspects that are only now in gestation.

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    1975 post-dates not only the other answers, but the early Internet itself.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 23:41
  • @Mark: TCP is from 1974. so there was only Arpanet (with probably some hundreds of machines) in 1975. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 7:28

An old short i read called "codemus". Everyone had a "little brother" who advised them when to get up, get dressed etc. All interconnected, voice controlled and with a webcam!. Waaaay back in the 50's

  • Are you sure it's from the '50s? The ISFDB thinks it's from 1968.
    – user14111
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 6:56

Not the first example, but surely the most uncannily accurate prediction, is in Frederik Pohl's "The Age of the Pussyfoot" written in 1965. In it, everyone carries a "Remote access computer transponder called a Joymaker", which does everything the smart phone does for us today - but also dispensed drinks and aspirin!

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    Hmm, but the question is looking for the first example.
    – Adamant
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 1:14

A candidate answer that is clearly about computers which are interconnected is the 1970 movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project". In this movie, a powerful American defense computer connects with its Soviet counterpart. Between them, they attempt to take control over humanity.

While it doesn't depict anything like our modern internet, it depicts a scenario bearing some similarity to the beginnings of our internet - two computers connected together.

  • In 1970, the Internet already existed for two years. It wasn't called Internet yet, but the ARPAnet (1968) became the Internet. I'm pretty sure that predicting something that already existed for two years does not count as "the first reference". Commented Aug 8, 2020 at 18:29

William Gibson - "Neuromancer" 1984 - Not the first, but perhaps one of the most detailed. Gibson's version of the internet predicted many things we're still trying to build, and did a pretty good job on the social impact as well.

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    As you say, not the first.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 20:06
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    Not the first as I mentioned. However, as the internet was first being built up from the arpanet, it was hard to find anyone who wasn't trying to build out Gibson's version of the internet, including the 90's versions of virtual reality. However, the question actually was phrased as first reference to a system like the basis of today's internet. Does this mean "electrical communication between all homes?" Or does it mean computer-mediated access to global data? First is relative to how close the sci-fi work conforms to that basis, so some of the earlier citations wouldn't qualify. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:26

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