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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! – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 6:46
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    Possible duplicate of this question? – user14111 Jun 23 '15 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. – duskwuff Jun 23 '15 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. – Reinstate Monica iamnotmaynard Jun 23 '15 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? – Craig Jun 24 '15 at 2:14
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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 Jun 23 '15 at 14:04
  • I just read this -- great story! I wish I could upvote this several times! – Null Jun 23 '15 at 18:59
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    @Omegacron your comment almost makes me want to ask if any SF stories predicted sharing funny cat pictures. – Zoredache Jun 23 '15 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 Jun 24 '15 at 17:02
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    @Omegacron Wait, there's CAT pictures? – Dirk v B Jun 26 '15 at 5:50
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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 Jun 23 '15 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. – Paul D. Waite Jun 23 '15 at 12:46
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    @PaulD.Waite don't give them any ideas ;) – Jason Hutchinson Jun 23 '15 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 Jun 24 '15 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. – clem steredenn Jun 25 '15 at 8:56
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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 Jun 23 '15 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 Jun 23 '15 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 Jun 23 '15 at 19:09
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    "the remote under-world" sounds like Twain had a truly prescient view of the internet. +1 – Dacio Jun 23 '15 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. – Steve Jessop Jun 25 '15 at 9:16
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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 Oct 14 '18 at 1:32
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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 Mar 15 '18 at 6:56
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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 Jun 23 '15 at 23:41
  • @Mark: TCP is from 1974. so there was only Arpanet (with probably some hundreds of machines) in 1975. – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Jun 26 '15 at 7:28
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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 Sep 26 '16 at 1:14
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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.

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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 Jun 25 '15 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. – Steve Robenalt Jun 25 '15 at 21:26

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