Visionaries of the future: Arthur C Clarke

picture: wireheading.comArthur C Clarke (1917-2008) foresaw the evolution of science, but also helped creating this evolution. He asked us: who are we? Why are we here? And what is our place in the universe?

His earliest work, Childhood’s end’, is the first in a series of Clarke’s ideas on alien contact and the evolution of mankind. In it, mankind experiences its first encounter with an advanced extra-terrestrial race. Gigantic spaceships hoover over the cities of the world, and human beings have to figure out how to interact with them. The aliens, wield technology so advanced that it seems nearly magical to the people of earth. They stay hanging above the earth without making contact for a full generation. So a generation of humans can evolve that sees these alien presences as a fact of life. The aliens turn out to have come to earth to protect human kind from its own destructive impulses. In the end, humans ascend from their bodies to join a vast cosmic ‘overmind’. To truly progress, mankind abandons the earth.

It was Arthur C Clarke that brought us the communication satellite. In 1945 he came up with the idea of the geo-synchronous orbit. In 1965, Intell Sat 1 was launched into a height of 22.000 miles above the equator. An orbit now known as the Clarke belt. Everything about geosynchronised communications today goes back to Clarke.

In 1964 Clarke starts working with Stanley Kubrick on the well-known movie 2001: A IMDBspace Odyssey (1968). This movie is said to have reinvented filmmaking and science fiction. The opening scene depicts a mysterious alien monolith triggers the evolution of man: The inspiration to use tools sets off millennia of technological progress. 2001 is a very mystical piece of science fiction. It echoes on the questions that always echo within us: who made us, where are we going?

Another important idea in 2001: A space Odyssey is that of moon-travel. World governments convene a secret council at a moon outpost. The council members travel to the moon on a pan-am space plane. The actual company Pan-Am went out of business in 1991. But in October 2011 Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose built commercial space port opened for business.

Clarke envisions that once humanity can conquer space travel and mankind to populate the cosmos. He predicts that human technology will evolve even beyond rocket ships. A future where reaching the stars can be as simple as stepping into an elevator.

AmazonIn his award-winning novel Fountains of Paradise he describes a cable stretching into the infinite beyond. A cable that would take you into heaven. Clarke theorises that space elevators are essential if mankind is to migrate to the stars. He saw rockets being to space travel what the balloon was to aviation: an out-dated mode of transportation. With a space elevator we could drop the cost of moving things of people into space down by a hundred. A space elevator can also launch a space aircraft from beyond the pole of earth’s gravity and deeper into the cosmos. This means bringing closer Clarke’s dream of interstellar colonisation. The LiftPort Group is a company building on the idea of Arthur C Clarke.

In 2001: A space odyssey, Clarke also brings us the supercomputer (at a time when computers are less powerful than most calculators now). Supercomputer Hal 9000 is so human, that he can go insane like a human being could. Hal 9000 has ‘inspired and terrified two generations of computer scientists’, according to David Ferrucci’s, the man behind IBM’s most famous invention: the supercomputer Watson.

In 1972 Clarke published Rendezvous with Rama. It tells us of a giant space ship, the size of the metropolitan area, that arrives in our solar system. An advanced meteor warning system, called space guard, detects the ship. Space Guard was Clarke’s idea for a system that would monitor all the stuff that was flying around in space and had a chance to hit the earth. In 1982 NASA realised its own ‘near earth object discovery programme’. They named it Space Guard, after the Space Guard that Clarke had prophesied in Rendezvous with Rama.

Arthur C Clarke was not only a great science fiction writer who provided us with ideas for technological evolution for decades, he also thought about the spiritual side concerning the future of mankind.

Source: Discovery Channel: Prophets of science fiction



About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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