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Arthur Clarke: a science fiction writer who predicted the future
Arthur Clarke: a science fiction writer who predicted the future

British scientist, inventor, futurist, explorer and science fiction writer Arthur Clarke is known for "predictions" of the future, for which he received the nickname "Prophet of the Space Age". He shared a vision of the future that amazed his contemporaries, as well as ideas about technologies that humanity will rely on. But how accurate were Clark's prophetic visions?

Future map

In 1968, the name of Arthur Clarke became a household name thanks to the release of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film also contained many of Clark's predictions about the future of space travel, which were expertly executed by the film's illustrators and decorators. And the book includes Clark's "Map of the Future" - a graph of his predictions until 2100.

For example, in terms of space exploration, Clark predicted spaceships, moon landings and laboratories in space by the mid-70s. In the 1980s and 1990s, he predicted that humans would land on Mars (and other planets), followed by colonies in the 2000s and interstellar probes by the 2020s.

He also predicted the emergence of communications satellites by the mid-80s, AI by the 90s and the Global Library by 2005. He believed that scientists would develop efficient batteries in the 70s and 80s, thermonuclear energy by the 90s. and wireless energy by 2005. In addition, by the early 2000s, he foresaw the rise of exobiology (the study of life in space), genetic cataloging, and genomics.

Of course, not all of these predictions have come true, at least not within the time frame proposed by him. But even where he was wrong, Clarke foresaw many trends and events that would eventually become (or are in the process of becoming) reality.

Let's figure out which of Clark's predictions turned out to be accurate.

Satellite communications and Internet

One of Clark's earliest and most accurate predictions was that satellite communications would come from missile launches. The first recorded mention of this idea was in the article "Extraterrestrial Repeaters: Can Rocket Stations Provide Worldwide Radio Coverage?" It was published in October 1945 in Wireless World.

In the article, Clark described a series of artificial satellites deployed in geostationary orbit (GSO) to relay radio signals. By 1957, the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik-1) with an onboard radio transmitter was launched. The following year, the United States deployed the first dedicated communications satellite as part of the Project Score.

By the 1960s, the first commercial communications satellites were launched from Earth, and by the 1980s, the industry had expanded. Long before that, Clark had predicted the social and economic implications of constellations of communications satellites in orbit. He shared this vision in the 1964 BBC documentary Horizon, where he described what civilization would be like in 2000:

Arthur Clarke

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) currently has 7,853 satellites in orbit, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) online index of objects launched into outer space. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which actively counts operational satellites, 3,372 of them were active as of January 1, 2021.

This number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, driven by the growth of the satellite internet market, CubeSat technology and cheaper launch services. Arthur Clarke is often credited with inventing communications satellites. For example, the "Clarke Belt" refers to a large satellite belt in the GSO.

Arthur Clarke's description of telecommunications was very similar to the Internet, although he had predicted it decades earlier, in 1974. Then, during an interview with ABC News, the writer spoke to an Australian reporter (and his son) about the future of computing.

Among the mainframes, Clarke explained what computers would look like when the reporter's son became an adult:

There is no need to wait for 2001. Even earlier, there would be a computer in his house, but not that big. At the very least, he will have a console that he will use to communicate, talk to his friendly local computer and receive all the information he needs in everyday life.

Arthur Clarke

Thanks to personal computers (PCs), internet connectivity, cloud computing, and search engines, people today live in a world almost identical to that described by Clarke. "Compact Homes" store all the personal information we need, there is a global data library, and we take these things for granted.

Space planes and commercial airliners

The 2001 Space Odyssey featured a commercial space plane named a real Pan American airline. Although the real company ceased operations in 1991, the writer's message was clear. Clarke predicted that space planes and commercial space travel would become a reality at the turn of the century.

In the early 1970s, even before the end of the Apollo program, NASA pondered its next course of action. To reduce the cost of space travel, they decided to develop a new launch system, partially reusable. This is how the space shuttle program was born, which operated until the last of them was decommissioned in 2011.

The USSR also developed a reusable orbital rocket ship, but it was never put into permanent operation. Later, scientists began developing space planes such as the Boeing X-37, Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi from China (an "experimental reusable space plane") and Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada.

Of course, such services were not available in the 2000s, but even then there were rumors that they might someday appear. Between 2000 and 2004, three giants of the modern commercial space industry emerged - Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. All of them were created with the aim of expanding access to space through the commercialization of launch services.

While SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, focused primarily on the development of reusable launch systems to transform humanity into an "interplanetary species," Bezos and Branson created the "space tourism" industry.

Virgin Galactic conducted its first fully manned flight in July 2021. And then, on July 20, 2021, Jeff Bezos flew into space on the first manned mission using the New Shepard spacecraft.

According to Elon Musk, SpaceX will conduct the first manned flight on its Starship reusable launch vehicle by 2023. On it, Japanese businessman and collector Yusaku Maezawa and seven other people will fly around the moon.

Thus, these specific predictions did not come true either in 1999 or in 2001. But Clarke predicted trends that materialized around that time. Today, commercial space travel is more reality than fantasy.

Intelligent machines

The most important element of the 2001 Space Odyssey was the emergence of the artificial intelligence HAL 9000 in the 21st century. In the film, he became an important part of scientific research and space exploration.

The nature and fate of the AI ​​of the future has left an indelible mark on popular culture. The eerily soothing voice, the iconic red eye, and how HAL 9000 killed the expedition members by shutting down life support systems - the image of the AI ​​going crazy has remained unchanged in the public imagination. Even now, in 2021, Clark's prediction that computers will surpass humans at the turn of the century worries some experts.

Talking about the emergence of AI that copes with complex tasks, Clark predicted the development of machine learning. This area of ​​research emerged just a few years before the release of the movie and novel, A Space Odyssey.

By 2021, supercomputers have already appeared that, like HAL, are now capable of simulating human speech and even interactions (for example, IBM Watson). However, modern supercomputers are still incapable of abstract thinking or reasoning.

Clarke and Kubrick also envisioned the HAL 9000 to be similar in profile to the computers of the day, which took up entire rooms and had wall-sized memory cores. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, computers will get smaller. In the second half of the twentieth century, integrated circuits appeared, which led to the development of personal computers (PCs).

So, while by the 2000s there were computers that surpass everything that existed in the 1960s, humanity has yet to create an AI that will surpass humans in every way.

Strange future

Before his death, Arthur Clark left the world with a huge amount of literature on the future of humanity. Over time, he revised some of his famous works, mainly due to the fact that priorities and budgets changed in the post-Apollo era, as well as due to technological revolutions.

But, as Clarke himself said in the prologue to 2001 A Space Odyssey: “Remember, this is just fiction. The truth, as always, will be much stranger."

And this statement of the writer turned out to be 100% accurate.

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