Friday, October 24, 2014

Guest Post: The Pop Prophet - Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke (Credit: Wikipedia)
Fame rode the shoulder of Arthur C. Clarke. As a science-fiction writer, he was touted as one of the genre’s “Big Three” alongside Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. He is remembered, not only for his literary prowess, but also for his remarkable ability to anticipate the future technologies.

In 1962, Clarke published Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible, an anthology of his many ideas of space travel and human communication. He thus formulated his first law of prediction: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

In 1994, the BBC News Network caught up with Clarke and asked him for his thoughts on the future. “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging, hazardous occupation,” warned Clarke, and then he refused his own advice.

The Tablet Computer
When Apple sued Samsung for the release of its iPad doppelganger, the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, Samsung turned to Arthur C. Clarke’s magnum opus for help: 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was constructed as both a screenplay for the Stanley Kubrick film and a novel unto itself in 1968. In that film, an astronaut watches the news on a thin black tablet called a “Newspad.” Samsung’s claim: Clarke invented the iPad design before Steve Jobs had even entered high school.

Bioengineering & Terraforming
In Profiles of the Future, Arthur C. Clarke put together a timeline of scientific advancement by decade from 1970 to 2100. He successfully predicted a global library in 2000 – ever hear of “the cloud”? – wireless energy transfer in 2010, and human bioengineering in 2020. His later predictions involved terraforming, planet colonization and climate control. Eerily, In 2013, the NASA Rover “Curiosity” detected samples of “abundant, easily accessible” water in the red rocky wastes of Mars, and people began chattering about a new earth.

The Geostationary Satellite
In his article Extra-terrestrial Relays, Clarke proposed that if a satellite slingshoted from the earth on the back of a rocket reaches 26,200 miles above the surface of the earth, it will rotate around the earth at the same speed as earth itself. Although Clarke did not invent the idea, he did popularize the notion and propose it as the basis of high-frequency telecommunication. Now, the geosynchronous orbit is formally called a “Clarke orbit.”

Internet & Wireless Communications
Like many science fiction writers of his day, Clarke foresaw the Internet. There will come a time, he said, when a man will have “all the information he needs for his everyday life: his bank statements, his theater reservations [on a computer] .. We'll live out in the country or wherever we please and still carry on complete interactions with other human beings as well as computers.” Remember: Clarke had first proposed this idea in a paper published in 1945 — 12 years before the launch of Sputnik, and about 15 years before the Telstar program (Howard Hughes collaboration with NASA) which itself set the stage for Arpanet and HughesNet Internet. Clarke didn’t merely anticipate the technology — he may have even expedited its development.

A Few Duds
Not all of Clarke’s forecasts came true. A few, like cryogenic suspension and asteroid deflections, are in their infancy. Others, like bio-engineered chimpanzee slaves and an earth-to-moon space elevator, may have missed the mark entirely.

Forever Hopeful
In his book 3001: The Final Odyssey, Clarke put a new spin on immortality. By transferring personality and memory into a digital database, he argued, the body could rot while the mind remained intact forever. Although immortality still evades humans, perhaps the gigabytes of videos, pictures, status updates and online blogs are all an elementary attempt to stay death’s hand?

More about the author:
Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based blogger and pulp literature enthusiast.
Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2

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