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The Psychic of Hollywood – Arthur C. Clarke’s Remarkable Predictions

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Beth Kelly takes a look at the remarkable foresight of Arthur C. Clarke...

For sci-fi fans around the world, Arthur C. Clarke is more than an author. His contributions to science fiction played a pivotal role in establishing it as a respectable pursuit and legitimizing it as a genre for professional writers. By extension, his work also influenced an entire generation of filmmakers interested in the intersection of science and fantasy. The British born Clarke’s imagination was unparalleled, and throughout his career he made dozens of predictions considering the future might look like. His most well-known work was the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For those familiar with the rest of his catalog, you’ll have undoubtedly heard of his book Profiles of the Future – and know that a remarkable number of his “educated guesses” came to fruition. So, in honor of this creative genius, let’s take a look back at what he imagined the future to be like, and whether or not he actually got it right.

1970s

Translating machines: He wasn’t too far off on this prediction, as the 1970’s saw the expanded research and adoption of machine translation in various forms. While they certainly weren’t as smooth and efficient as Google Translate is today, it was a radical new technology at the time and wasn’t even marketed to the general public until the late 80’s.

1980s

Planetary landings: This actually happened in the early 70’s when the (then) U.S.S.R. was able to successfully land their spacecraft on both Venus and Mars in 1971 (granted, the Russian spacecraft crash landed on Mars). They were quickly followed by the U.S. who were the first to complete a soft landing and transmit data back from Mars in 1976.

Personal radio: What he meant by this was essentially a cell phone. This was another correct prediction for Clarke as Motorola introduced the DynaTAC 8000x in 1983, making it the first commercially available cell phone.

Satellite Television: In a 1956 letter to his friend Andrew G. Haley, Clarke described the idea of, in 30 years, what we know today as satellite television and global positioning systems. The pioneers of the industry in the late 70’s included HBO, TBS, and CBN. Satellite television providers really took off in the 80’s and 90s’ with companies like DirecTV, Hughesnet Satellite, and DISH Network all joining in the game by launching their own satellites and choosing to go it alone.

Of course now we know that nearly everything is transmitted via satellite but Clarke was able to clearly predict this nearly 30 years before it even happened.

1990s

Fusion power: He was spot on with this prediction as the Preliminary Tritium Experiment at the Joint European Torus in 1991 was able to create the world’s first controlled release of fusion power. Since then scientists have been about to create fusion on increasingly smaller scales and in increasing numbers. In fact, in March of this year a 13 year old named Jamie Edwards was even able to achieve fusion power on a budget of only £2000 (approx. $3,235). While it’s use is not widespread or really ready to be used in much more than experiments, Clarke saw this one coming.

Artificial intelligence: It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly Clarke would consider artificial intelligence but his timeline is about right for when the technology took off. It was in the 90’s and early 00’s that AI study and research really took off, and it was in 1997 that the first computer chess-playing game system was able to beat the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov, marking a huge milestone for the science.

Today, artificial intelligence algorithms are used in some popular products like the Xbox 360, Kinect, and, of course, iPhone’s Siri.

2000s

Colonizing planets: Nope, we have yet to put a person anywhere but the Moon. However, Dennis Tito, a man dubbed the “world’s first space tourist”, is currently planning a 2018 trip to Mars with the help of his recently founded non-profit company called Inspiration Mars Foundation.

Global Library: While there isn’t necessarily a “global library” per-se, the advent of the internet as well as the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets have made it possible to download tens of millions of books electronically. Sure they’re not free, but when you think about it, it’s essentially a global book store. Turns out Clarke was, sort of, right yet again.

Sea mining: The concept, first introduced by J.L. Mero in the 1960’s argued that underneath the ocean’s floor lays incredible amounts of minerals and metals like nickel. Since then, the U.S., Germany, and France have all spent hundreds of millions of dollars to explore this idea before largely giving up by the mid 80’s. Picking up where they left off were Asian countries who have yet to be able to successfully create an underwater mine.

Time, perception enhancement: If only he were right about this!

2010s

Earth Probing: While the study of our planet has been extensive through the decades following Clarke’s prediction we’re far behind where he thought we’d be. He expected us, in the next ten years, to start drilling to the Earth’s core. I think it’s safe to say we won’t see that for a little bit yet

Weather control: This, sadly, looks just like a pipe dream even today.

While Clarke’s predictions may not have always been spot on, it’s remarkable how many things he was able to accurately predict would happen. His full list of predictions from the book Profiles of the Future predicts that before 2100 machines will be smarter than men, we’ll have the ability to control the climate and gravity and distort space and time, develop immortality and create intelligent animals, to name a few. At the rate that his previous predictions came true, at least some of these likely have a pretty good chance of happening!


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