Arthur C. Clarke, author of ‘2001’, claims that the future cannot be predicted in 1964. And then he predicts the internet
It is a topic that good science fiction does not have to predict the future well, but simply imagine other worlds (other dimensions, other futures, other planets) and that are plausible from a scientific or, at least, realistic point of view. Of course this definition is extremely elastic and we often consider science fiction the part of fantasy where magic does not exist, and yet that rule is often broken.
All in all, and despite keeping this definition in mind, we are fascinated when science fiction from the 1950s or 1960s predicts artifacts unimaginable then, such as mobile phones, the Internet or social networks. Arthur C. Clarke himself, author of the story ‘The Sentinel’ that inspired ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and co-writer of it, stated that “if by some miracle some prophet could describe the future exactly as it is going to happen, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched that the whole world would laugh him into contempt.”
However, he himself was a sensational fortune teller. His knowledge of science allowed him to describe future space travel with amazing realism., and if ‘2001’ has hardly aged since its premiere in 1968, it is largely due to the rigor of the script that he co-wrote with Kubrick. The words of the previous paragraph belong to a BBC documentary from 1964 (which you can see in the video that follows and in its second part, here) where Clarke does just that: predict the future with stunning accuracy. But no one takes him for a madman.
Internet according to Clarke
And it’s funny, because the report uses a technology expo as an excuse where you can see a diorama that represents the future, and its ingenuity is adorable. Laser beams, vaults with cities in the ice… and then Clarke appears (by then he already had the prestige that would lead him to be part of the trio of authors known as ‘The Big Three’: he, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein) and predicts the future, specifically the year 2014, with overwhelming calm and accuracy.
Clarke talks about how advances in technology (“transistors,” he says, that is, any electronic device, including computers) and in satellite communication will transform our conception of physical space. Specifically, he states that “these things will make possible a world in which we can be in instant contact wherever we are. We can contact our friends anywhere on Earth, even if we don’t know their real physical location. Possibly 50 years from now it will be possible for a man to run his business from Tahiti or Bali as well as from London.”
Curiously, he makes reference (the always idealistic science fiction writers) to how this change can lead to a radical transformation of medicine: “One day we will have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on New Zealand patients.” It’s true, it can be donebut it is certainly not the main Internet application.
His other amazing prediction in the documentary is something that could be considered an evolution of 3D printing, not yet as widespread as Clarke supposes. But it’s coming close: a “replicator contraption” that can have pernicious effects: “our current society would probably sink into a kind of gluttonous barbarismsince everyone would want unlimited amounts of everything.”
Of course, and despite the accuracy of some of his predictions, he does not always hit the nail on the head: he speaks of the massification of suspended animation for space travel, something still in the realm of fiction. Or how the monkeys will be trained to serve us in everyday tasks. A future that, frankly, I can’t wait for, because I’m getting older and time is running out before I can replicate, with the illusion that it makes me, the little act of prostrating myself on my knees and crying out to heaven before a Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand on the beach.