What will the world be like in 40 years? If we could, we’d ask Arthur C. Clarke, whose vision of the future – not just the tech, but also its impact on the way we live – was stunningly prescient….and who would have turned 100 in December.
Best known as the science fiction writer who came up with “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its sentient computer HAL9000, Clarke was also a science writer and inventor. He came up with the concept for the communications satellite (so did Bell Labs scientist John Robinson Pierce at the same time – Pierce took the credit). And he was a futurist.
During a 1976 AT&T-MIT conference on futurism and technology, Clarke – in his 60s at the time – gave an interview in which he discussed what was in store for those of us who’d be living in the 2010s.
How Clarke Saw the Present 40 Years Ago
Today’s Internet-connected computers
“It would be a high-definition TV screen, and a typewriter keyboard, and through this you can exchange any type of information, send messages to your friends. They can wait and when they get up they can see what messages have come in the night.”
Video call communications (Skype, etc.)
“We’re going to get devices which will enable us to send much more information to our friends. They’ll be able to see us, we’ll be able to see them, you will… exchange pictures, pictorial information, graphical information, data, books, and so forth.”
“You’ll tell the machine, I’m interested in such-and-such item – sports, politics and so forth – and the machine will hunt the main central library and bring all this to you selectively. Just what you want, not all the junk that you have to get when you buy two or three pounds of wood pulp, which is the daily newspaper.”
The death of newspapers
“The newspaper is on the way out. We’re not going to ship all this tons and tons of paper around when all you need is information.”
Mobile phones – the pros and cons
“Of course, it has disadvantages as well as advantages. Anyone can get at you anytime you like. Of course you could switch off the calling signal, but then you might have to explain later why it was switched off.”
“The wristwatch telephone will be technologically feasible very soon. And so the telephone will no longer be sort of fixed in one place. It will be completely mobile. And this would again restructure society.”
We’re not at the “restructuring society” stage yet – any guesses as to what that might mean?
Clarke Didn’t Get Everything Right…
The end of time zones
“In the global village of the future it will be like living in one small town where at any time, one third of your friends will be asleep – but you won’t know which third. So you may have to abolish time zones completely and all go on a common time.”
No more traffic jams
Clarke believed that by now, we would all be telecommuting. The only reason to get in your car would be for a joy ride. Too bad, Arthur.
What’s On the Horizon?
According to Clarke’s “Chart of the Future,” 2090 will see interstellar flight and in the year 2100, earth dwellers will have their first meetings with extra-terrestrials.
Here’s to the 22nd century!