Arthur C. Clarke was a British science fiction writer, science writer, television host, and undersea explorer, mostly known for writing his script for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was a man with a vast imagination, and throughout his life, Clarke made many predictions about the technological advancements and events for the future – many of which came true! Let’s take a look at some of the most amazing predictions.
The Internet and Personal Computers
In 1974, Clarke appeared on Australia’s ABC network in a memorable clip with a reporter and the reporter’s son. Clarke said that in the year 2001, the reporter’s son would be able to have his own compact personal computer, which he could use for everything from communicating with friends to reviewing bank statements. When questioned about whether or not this would have adverse consequences for humanity, Clarke was adamant that computer technology would ultimately enrich our lives, and let us live anywhere on Earth. The internet is perhaps Clarke’s biggest prediction that affects our lives today. In the 21st century, computers and the internet have become such a necessity that now, there are schools that even require you to have your own personal laptop. And today, obviously, with wireless internet accessibility on cell phones, tablets, and gaming consoles, we are almost never offline.
Geosynchronous Satellites and Telecommunicating
Geosynchronous satellites have been commonly used since at least 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik 1, but the concept had been proposed by Clarke much earlier. He thought they would offer a perfect means of telecommunicating. Clarke first wrote about this idea in a letter to an editor of Wireless World in February of 1945 and then expounded on it with an article published in Wireless World in October of 1945 titled, “Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?” He stated that if rockets were sent into orbit around the Earth at a fixed location over the equator, satellites would orbit earth in synchronization with earth’s rotation. We would be able to use these satellites to transmit radio signals. Clarke’s writings on geosynchronous satellites also set the stage for the Telstar program which was a famous collaboration between Howard Hughes and NASA. In the 1960s, the Telstar program made the world’s first successful trans-continental TV transmission. The program set the foundation for not only satellite television, but also the HughesNet company, which still specializes in satellite internet. This orbit is now sometimes known as the “Clarke Orbit,” and the area containing satellites in this orbit as the “Clarke Belt.” Today we use geosynchronous satellites for communication, weather, broadcasting, and more.
Clarke appeared on a BBC documentary in 1964, speaking about the future. One concept he foresaw, he described as a “replicator” that would create an exact copy of anything. He says this is “an invention to end all inventions” possibly because it has the potential to turn us into a barbaric society because we would greedily want unlimited quantities of anything we could get our hands on. Twenty years later in 1984, the first working 3D printer was created by Charles W. Hull of 3D Systems Corp. Now, 3D printers are readily available to consumers and are significantly cheaper than they were in the 80s. They are even expected to be able to replicate food in the future. Clarke may possibly have been right about the machine making us greedy but with its potential to be used for architecture, dental purposes, and aerospace, the 3D printer can do so much more to enrich our society.
In the same 1964 BBC documentary, Clarke also mentions being able to perform remote surgery in the future. He says “One day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand (clip here).” This is the concept of telesurgery, the ability for a doctor to perform surgery on a patient even if they are in different locations. The first account of telesurgery was in 2001 when doctors in California were able to use technology such as surgical robots and videoconferencing to perform surgery on patients in Rome. This trans-Atlantic remote surgery was the first of many that were to occur the following years. With this, people across the world would be able to get the surgical needs they require without having to travel to a different country.
2001: A Space Odyssey was a popular science fiction film in 1968 written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick and was partially inspired by Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel.” In the film’s script, Clarke wrote about a device called the “Newspad” and, looking back, it seems eerily similar to the iPad that we have today. Clarke describes the Newspad as something like a digital newspaper, in which you can find the latest reports from Earth. In 2010, two years after Clarke had died, the first iPad was released. The following years after that would come the iPad 2, the iPad 3, the iPad 4, and the iPad mini, each performing even greater than the last. We are able to utilize these tablets in similar ways we use computers, by using wireless internet, communicating with people, and keeping track of our daily lives. In the market today, we can find tablets similar to the iPad produced by companies such as Microsoft and Samsung.
Although not all of Clarke’s predictions came true, it seems like many of them were starting points for even greater technological advancements for the future.
About the Author:
"Jared Hill is a Chicago based blogger with a keen interest in vintage pulp novels (especially science-fiction titles), sports (especially the Wizards), and food (especially nachos). Follow him on Twitter: @JaredHill341"