28 October 2014

Guest Post by Jared Hill ~ Arthur C. Clarke: A Look Back to the Future?

The popularity of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke was so great by 1970, that the Apollo 13 Command Module, headed for the lunar surface, was dubbed Odyssey. That name was, of course, a tribute to what is perhaps Clarke’s most popular and enduring story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which hit movie theaters in 1968. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick and the two of them were nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1969 Oscars.

Clarke also wrote the novel version of 2001, along with three sequels to the book, 2010, 2061 and 3001. His many other writing projects, which include countless short stories and the novels Childhood’s End and A Fall of Moondust, earned him a place among the most respected science fiction writers of the 20th Century. Beyond his fictional writing, however, Clarke is also still revered for his work as a futurist: someone whose scientific grasp and lively imagination enabled him to make interesting, and in some cases amazingly accurate, predictions about future technology.

In this respect, Clarke is especially remembered for his 1945 predictions about satellite communications. In his article Extra-Terrestrial Relays (published in “Wireless World”), Clarke envisioned, in both words and drawings, space stations that would broadcast television signals, and satellites that would orbit the earth at a fixed location above the equator, in synchronization with earth’s rotation. He was writing about rocket technology and how rockets with enough speed and thrust could eventually launch satellites into orbit. If one could launch them far enough, then the orbit of the satellite would match the earth’s orbit and allow the satellite to remain stationary above one given location. 

Clarke not only anticipated the creation of the International Space Station and geosynchronous satellite networks, but his writing helped to establish the conceptual foundation for the technology itself. Without his contributions, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have satellite internet or transatlantic television broadcasts as we do today. Today, this orbit is named the Clarke Orbit in his honor, and the area of space where scientists can implement stationary or near-stationary orbits is called the Clarke Belt.

By 1974, Clarke was making astounding predictions about future communications that sound strangely close to a description of today’s internet communications. Although the only computers in existence at that time were massive, and would fill entire rooms, Clarke envisioned a world wherein every home would have “a console” through which people could communicate with a large database of information. He predicted that this database could be used for everything from retrieving one’s bank statements to making theater reservations. He talked of "a world in which we can be in instant contact wherever we may be," and how we could connect with people even if we didn’t know exactly where they were located. He surmised that this would change the way people did business, since they would be able to work from far more remote locations than they could in the present. He even suggested that doctors might be able to operate on patients remotely. In what seems like serendipity, the first robotic surgery came to pass, interestingly enough, in the actual year 2001.

Arthur C. Clarke passed away in 2008, but his legacy as both a great science fiction writer and a predictor of scientific possibilities lives on. Many people in both the literary world and the scientific and aeronautics communities mourned his passing and paid tribute to his genius and his sense of optimism about the future.

Jared Hil
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About the Author

Jared Hill is a Chicago based writer who focuses on entertainment, technology, health and sports. Follow him on twitter @JaredHill341

1 comment:

  1. I love reading science fiction set in a time that has come and gone. It is always so interesting to see the vision a writer had for a time period. Usually the technologies are vastly overstated (flying cars, robot housekeepers, digital chips in our limbs), but it is always fascinating to find things they got right, predictions that came true. That always intrigues me!


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