Of the plethora of successful science fiction writers who’ve shared their vision with the world, few if any hold the special place Arthur C. Clarke does. Known as one of the fathers of traditional science fiction, his works have not only enriched genre fiction, but have also shaped our understanding of humanity’s place in the universe, and he repeatedly encouraged his readership to look beyond technological and philosophical horizons with wonder.
One of the early true futurists, Mr. Clarke took every opportunity, in his writing, to make grand and sincere predictions about our civilization’s future both in the coming years and the far off ages yet to be. Having an illustrious literary award named for him, and one of the standards to which all subsequent genre-writers are held, Arthur C. Clarke’s hand in shaping the destiny of our species transcends his lifetime to the far horizons of time.
There scarcely exists a work written by this genius that doesn’t predict, sometimes with eerie accuracy, things to come in years following its inception. The script that he helped pen for Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps his most resonant work—it helped to inspire virtually every science-fiction film that followed, from the Star Wars saga to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. These are the most known, but without experiencing the many wonderful visions of Mr. Clarke, it’s really impossible to believe the many wonders he predicted, and how many of them are actually happening right now.
In a time when artificial satellites were merely a curiosity, a badge of achievement in cold war competition, Mr. Clarke saw past such things and envisioned awesome new applications for these devices. Astonishingly, Clarke had published articles about geosynchronous satellite networks at least 12 years before the Russians launched Sputnik.
Proposing geostationary satellites later used for GPS systems, along with use of satellites for wireless communications across the globe, he in fact contributed to the development of the first communications satellite programs launched by the U.S.
These satellite networks make possible the high speed global internet of the 21st century, which could not exist solely as landlines. In a number of interviews and works during the early decades of computing, Clarke was quick to foresee a global data network composed of computers in businesses, infrastructure and the home, through which man would work, shop and play. And not only did Clarke pave the way from everything from Skype to HughesNet service, he also anticipated the personal computer twenty years before the pioneering PCs such as the Altair, Commodore and Apple II hit the shelves.
While giving an interview in a room with an enormous primitive computer in the early seventies, Clarke predicted that by the dawn of the 21st Century, people would have some sort of computer interface in their home that would enable them to retrieve data from a larger hub.
If you look at the Kubrick film, you can see evidence of Clarke anticipating interfaces that were even more compact. That’s right—Clarke essentially saw the iPad coming. These portable thin devices were depicted in the Kubrick film quite prominently in a famous scene where the astronaut interviews are retrospectively shown.
It’s hard to say exactly how visionaries such as Mr. Clarke imagined these devices working, decades before many of the underlying technologies were discovered, but imagination isn’t bound by such trivialities.
Of course, Mr. Clarke’s predictions of man’s future weren’t bound just by the time we live in now, and the near future we look to. No, he envisioned great things in our far future, things which we’re now on the brink of making possible.
Proposals that haven’t entirely come true, but are guaranteed to are devices capable of constructing matter from the ground up (preceded by the recent breakthroughs in 3D printers and programmable matter technology).
He also foresaw the telecommuting nature of the internet and advanced computing heralding in a new age of medical accessibility, with talented surgeons being able to operate via remote robotics on patients anywhere less than a light second away. While this isn’t a common practice yet—largely due to the apprehension people have for such concepts, experimental remote-robot surgeries have in fact been successfully performed.
While the far off visions of space exploration posited by his Rama saga as well as novels such as The Sands of Mars are still a thing of tomorrow, the technologies and practices outlined in these works for creating gravity in space and safe habitats in the harsh climates of Mars and the Moon have closely shaped NASA’s forthcoming plans to take on these grand missions.
Today: science fiction. Tomorrow: reality. And as he said himself, if a prediction isn’t “wild and wondrous,” then it’s probably erroneous.
If you enjoyed Brandon Engel’s piece, you can find the rest of his work right HERE on Sci-Fi Bloggers.
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