Unlike the last three authors the show featured (Mary Shelley, Philip K. Dick and H.G. Wells), Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future was not as fatalistic. He focused more on what was our place in the universe and the future of humanity and what would we would evolve into. His futuristic meta-physical take of science made him unique and even now, there are still many of his prophesies just at the beginning stages of being realized.
Arthur C. Clarke saw the world differently. In his late teens, he joined the British Interplanetary Society. This society shared the common goal to help lead mankind into space. In the 1930’s many thought their calculations and ideas to travel to the moon were foolish but Clarke saw differently keeping books of calculations of possible ways that space travel could occur.
Not all of Clarke’s ideas and predictions came in books. In WWII, while in the Royal Air Force, Clarke was stationed to man the top secret radar system, The Mark I. This equipment allowed operators on the ground to talk to the pilots so that they can land in the dark. Clarke realized this technology could someday connect the human race. In an impromptu experiment, Clarke tried to bounce the radar signal off the moon hoping it would come back but failed. The moon was too far. It made him think: What if something man made could be sent out into space that was closer to the moon to bounce the signals back? The concept of the communication satellite was born. By 1965, the first communications satellite was launched at a height of 22,000 miles above the equator and the orbit it takes is now called the Clarke Belt.
Clarke has been attributed to the ideas for space colonization, space travel and even the possibilities of alien races contacting us. How is Clarke able to be right on in his predictions? He attributes his success to 3 laws that he abides by:
1. When a distinguished scientist says something is possible then it’s possible. When a distinguished scientist says something is impossible, it’s still possible.
2. In order to make great discoveries you need to go beyond the world of possible into the realm of impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
In 2008, Clarke died at the age of 90. He was able to live to see many of his predictions come true and was known to make a list of those that did. Through science fiction, he wrote about how humans were in a constant state of evolution and the optimism that it would bring.
Here are some of his works and how his ideas have become reality:
In this book, Clarke writes about man’s first encounter with an advanced extraterrestrial race. He wrote about gigantic spaceships that hovered all around the world and were controlled by aliens called Overlords. When contact is made, humans wondered about the aliens’ planet of origin based on their horrific physical appearance. However, their mission was not as diabolical as it may seem. The Overlords were sent to protect humanity from its own destructiveness so that they can advance to the next evolutionary stage. The children of earth ascend spirituality to join the Overmind. According to the novel, for mankind to progress, they must leave earth.
This is not unlike what is being done today as NASA is researching possibilities of life on other planets. Meteorites have been found with the building blocks of life in them and it has been shown that these meteorite’s existed even before our planet showed any signs. Depending on the planetary conditions, scientists have speculated what these extraterrestrials would look like.
The search for habitable planets continues on with the Kepler Telescope. The Kepler telescope actually came about using Clarke’s ideas of a space satellite. The Kepler space telescope’s sole purpose is to look for planets outside our solar system. It is hoped that this mission will find out if there are other habitable planets out there or if Earth is an anomaly. To date, Kepler has catalogued 54 planets with habitable zones that could support human life but unfortunately the closest planet is many light years away.
Not as surpising was Ridley Scott’s admission that he believes in extraterrestrials. “It’s an arrogance to believe we’re the only living organisms in this galaxy,” he states, “I think there’s thousands of us…millions of us…who knows what it is. We are not here by accident…you have to ask along the way, who pushed and pulled or adjusted to make us what we are now here today” (‘Prometheus’ anyone?)
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
In 1964, Clarke collaborates with Stanley Kubrick for the ultimate journey into space: ‘2001 A Space Odessey.’ Scott admits that until he saw this film, he really wasn’t a fan of science fiction. But it was this movie that compelled him to want to direct a film in the genre.
In the movie, a secret council was formed to determine what humanities next step would be after finding a mysterious monolith on the moon. The members are transported to the moon via a Pan Am space plane. Although Pan Am went out of business, the concept of taking a plane to the moon has not gone bust. In October 2011, Spaceport America was launched, the first commercial space port to take customers into sub orbit.
Also in this book, Clarke evolved the concept of a computer into a supercomputer called Hal 9000. When ‘2001’ was first written, computers were still in its infancy and had less capability than modern computers. Hal 9000 was written to be so human like with artificial intelligence that it was even able to develop a neurosis.
Over at IBM, the concept of super computer/artificial intelligence has been reproduced into a computer called WATSON. In fact, just this year, Watson appeared on the TV show ‘Jeopardy’ to go against the top two champions of the show easily defeating them. Watson has the capability to connect seemingly random words and “learn” from these connections but its creator feels that mankind is still years away before Watson can even be close to what Hal ever was.
FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE
This novel received the Hugo Award for Clarke. In it, he talks about a cable that could take you all the way up to heaven a la ‘Jack in the Beanstalk.’ Physicists have already theorized that this is actually feasible but instead of a cable to heaven, it would be an elevator into space. What you would have to do is put a space station in a geo-synchronous orbit with the earth so it is always above the same point on the planet. The centrifugal force would allow the satellite to support the elevator. Engineers are currently designing and devising mechanisms to bring the space elevator to life. According to Clarke a space elevator is an essential evolutionary step if humans were to be able to migrate into space and imagined space elevators would soon be all around the world like spokes on a wheel.
RENDEVOUS TO RAMA
Another Hugo Award winning novel, this book was written in 1972 and described an advanced meteorite warning system called Space Guard. In 1992, NASA developed its own near earth discovery program and named it Space Guard, after the warning system in the book.
Arthur C. Clarke’s love of science and space transformed the way we see the world. I wonder if he and Steve Jobs had ever met. From Clarke’s idea of a newspad to Job’s creation of the iPad, the wonders of what the two could come up with would be amazing.
This is the last new episode of ‘Prophets of Science Fiction’ until February. Although most of the time the prophecies seem to be directed towards doom and gloom, this last episode brought about a feeling of optimism and an excitement to see what our future could bring. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series so far as it now has made me want to go back and read the classic novels and really examine many of the author’s works and see them as Scott does. The series is brilliant and entertaining and often has those “Oh Wow!” moments like when a light bulb goes off in your head. If you haven’t had a chance to catch this series, I highly recommend that you do! It’s a must see for any science fiction fan and it just may get you back to reading the classic books.