On Star Trek, humans talked to computers—they even used something like floppy disks and memory sticks—but nowhere did crew members get information from ethereal machines whose locations and identities were otherwise unknown. Large-scale central computers that governed whole societies were imagined, but not a diffuse network of machines, including home refrigerators and pocket-size computers, on which users’ identities were unknown.

This is not to disparage science-fiction writers. Their job is not to predict the future—it’s to imagine it based on current trends. That’s what’s so amazing about the internet: The ubiquitous World Wide Web arose from an unexpected place. Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the internet is that necessity was the mother of its invention. As particle physics experiments became bigger, with larger collaborations spread around the world, the need for disparate groups to collaborate and share data arose. Thus began the World Wide Web, initiated at CERN, the home of what is now the world’s largest particle accelerator: the Large Hadron Collider.

So the technology that would change everything else about the world in which we live was itself an offshoot of an esoteric scientific endeavor. That is beyond remarkable, and it’s worth celebrating. As much fun as science fiction is, I will take the real world any day for its surprises and the possibilities that humans would otherwise never imagine on their own. {read}