Looking Back on Arthur C. Clarke’s Predictions
Born almost 100 years ago, Arthur C. Clarke showed an interest in space travel and futuristic ideas at a very early age, which manifested into predictions which captivated the general public. He began writing science fiction as a teenager, and his works became immensely popular as his career progressed, culminating with his screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, largely considered his most popular work. He was even regarded as one of the science-fiction genre’s “big three” alongside Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Throughout his career Arthur C. Clarke made many futuristic predictions about life and technology, an astounding number of which have come true and are now considered essential to life in the 21st century.
In a 1964 BBC interview titled “Horizon”, Clarke admitted that it was difficult and virtually impossible to accurately predict the future, but that any prediction that did not seem astounding could not possibly be true. He went on to predict that, by the year 2000, communication satellites would make it possible for people to communicate instantaneously, regardless of distance and regardless of exact location. He believed telecommunication would make travel and commuting unnecessary for business, except for cases of pleasure, and allow a doctor in England to perform surgery on a patient in New Zealand.
Clarke had predicted communication satellites as early as 1945, which was well over a decade before the launch of the world’s first satellite. If it wasn’t for Clarke’s rich imagination, it’s entirely possible that the world would not have Sputnik, HughesNet satellite internet, or satellite television today.
Clarke also predicted that a major component of this global telecommunication would be personal receiving and transmitting devices that would be so minute that every person could carry one in their pocket. He believed one day everyone would be able to be reached anywhere in the world by simply dialing a sequence of numbers, and he also predicted that, with global positioning systems, no one would ever need to be lost again. One day he predicted that all information would be instantaneously available at anyone’s fingertips.
Clarke went on to predict the invention of the replicator, which would be able to produce a copy of anything almost instantaneously. This is especially chilling given the recent rise of 3D printing and how prominent it is becoming as a major technological breakthrough, allowing people to download and print hundreds of thousands of items, ranging from very simple to extremely complex. It even has medical applications.
Clarke believed that one day artificial intelligence would surpass biological intelligence. Although he believed that organic evolution may be nearing its end, inorganic evolution would rise which would be significantly more rapid than anything produced biologically. He predicted the invention of a machine that would directly record information to the brain, allowing users to learn languages overnight, become skilled laborers in an instant, or relieve or forget memories from long ago. Although this has not yet come to pass, many scientists now believe that the rise of artificial intelligence will be something humanity must deal with within the next generation.
With regard to space travel, Clarke believed that people could be cryogenically frozen in order to travel long distances in space. He believed one day man would be capable of terraforming Mars and eventually colonizing planets to the point that humans would not need to live in isolated habitats.
Clarke admitted and emphasized the inability of anyone to make completely accurate predictions about the future, and many of his own predictions have yet came to pass, including super chimpanzees, or man colonizing the moon — but one can only wonder how many of his “failed” predictions are simply on the edge of the horizon. The first human stepping foot on Mars could be only decades away, and his predictions of terraforming may take hundreds of years longer. However viewed, his technological foresight is undeniable and the accuracy of his predictions can only be viewed in the light of the future.