GUEST POST: 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 from a very early age, which later manifested into predictions that captivated the general public. He began writing science fiction as a teenager, and his works became immensely popular as his career progressed, culminating with the 1964 screenplay 2001: A Space Odyssey, largely considered his most popular work. 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 (what we now call satellite internet) would make it possible for people to communicate instantaneously, regardless of their distance or exact location. He believed telecommunication would make travel and commuting unnecessary for business, except for cases of pleasure, and might even allow a doctor in England to perform surgery on a patient in New Zealand.

Clarke also predicted that this global telecommunication would be highlighted by receiving and transmitting devices that would be so minute every person could carry one in their pocket and believed that one day everyone would be reachable anywhere in the world by simply dialing a sequence of numbers (sound familiar yet?). Clarke even predicted that with global positioning systems, no one would ever need to be lost again. He felt that one day all this information, and more, 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. Today, 3D printers are allowing people to download and print hundreds of thousands of items, ranging from very simple to extremely complex – like food.

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 thousands of times more rapidly 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 relive forgotten 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 was adamant that one day man would be capable of terraforming Mars, and eventually colonize new planets to the point that humans would no longer need 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 not yet come to pass, including super chimpanzees or men colonizing the moon. However, given how many of his predictions have been true, 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 a few years away, and his predictions of terraforming may not be far behind. However viewed, his technological foresight is undeniable and the accuracy of his predictions can only be viewed in the light of the future.

Kate Voss
@kateevoss

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Top 5 Ray Bradbury Books

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Guest Post: Top 5 Ray Bradbury Books

One of the most enduring aspects of science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s legacy is his ability to humanize something as cold and alien as the future and leave readers examining their own relationships to the worlds and societies they live in. He was a prolific writer who had completed three novels and over 600 short stories at the time of his passing in 2012, but five of his works stand as the greatest testaments to his genre-transcendent ability to tell stories.

  1. The Halloween Tree

Bradbury’s 1972 novel The Halloween Tree combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and historical fiction to tell the story of nine friends’ journey through time. Throughout their jaunts across time and space, the friends learn about the origins of Halloween, from ancient pagan practices and Druid priests to the Mexican Dias de Muertos celebrations. The novel was originally written as a script for an animated film that was supposed to be directed by Chuck Jones. Even though the collaboration with Jones never fully materialized, an Emmy-winning animated adaptation premiered on television in 1993. Disneyland displays a Bradbury-inspired Halloween tree every year with their Halloween decorations.

 

  1. The Illustrated Man

Although The Illustrated Man was mostly composed to versions of stories Bradbury had already previously published, it is considered one of his most significant collections. The entire work is framed around a transient man who is covered from head to toe in vibrant and constantly shifting tattoos that each tell a story. Most of the stories have strikingly philosophical focuses that utilize the future and its imagined technologies to ask questions about human nature. For example, the story The Other Foot touches on the deep wounds created by racism while Kaleidoscope has deeply introspective and existentialist themes.

 

  1. The Martian Chronicles

Throughout this collection course of nearly thirty short stories, readers are given an image of a devastated Earth and a Mars colonization mission are painted, leading to genocide of the native Martians that parallels the devastation of Native Americans following European colonization. Bradbury poignantly reflects on humanities capacity for destruction and environmental concerns through a character in the story “And the Moon Be Still As Bright” when he states “We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves…We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.” Bradbury always insisted the wasn’t as interested in “predicting” the future as much as preventing it, and he clearly anticipated modern concerns about the environment, and thankfully people are generally looking to reduce their carbon footprint (more details here). Another story that feels eerily relevant is “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” which details a fully-automated house which self destructs in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust — and the story is all the more chilling nowadays, in the age of home automation systems.

  1. Something Wicked This Way Comes

In Something Wicked, Bradbury departs somewhat dramatically from his normal futuristic setting and instead writes about a supernatural carnival that has settled down in an anonymous Midwestern American town. Rather than using humanity’s relationship to technology to ask the important questions, Bradbury utilizes more mystical plot devices such as a carousel that increases or reverses a rider’s age depending on which direction it is spinning and a blind fortune teller with telepathic powers. Ultimately, the novel is about good and evil and a few deeper themes like eternal youth and hubris and its relevance has not faded in the fifty years it has been in print.

 

  1. Fahrenheit 451

To put it simply, Fahrenheit 451 is considered Bradbury’s masterpiece and a starkly unsettling view of the near future. The novel is told through the perspective of a “fireman”, who is tasked with finding and burning hidden caches of books which are now illegal in a world saturated by the media and a mindless public. The book was formulated during the harrowing McCarthy trials in which Senator Joe McCarthy was leading so-called “witch hunts” against suspected Communists in the United States, which lead to the destruction of many persons’ lives. Fahrenheit 451 encapsulates the ultimate fear of every thinking human being: a world where free thought and discussion have given way to mass media and groupthink. Bradbury also put his uncanny knack for accurately predicting the future when he described tiny electronic radios that fit into people’s ears a la Bluetooth headsets, giant flatscreen TV’s that would dominate people’s free time, social media and its resulting isolation, shortening attention spans and even ATMs.

Kate Voss
@kateevoss

You might also like these other guest posts from Kate Voss:

Wizard of Oz Spinoffs

Movies for Bookworms

Top Five Novels That Make Great Holiday Gifts