By Brandon Engel: Even the most casual fan of the science-fiction genre has probably heard of Arthur C. Clarke. His many works of literature remain immensely popular to this day, particularly his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (which was written at the same time as his screenplay for the eponymous film directed by Stanley Kubrick). Clarke’s vast creative genius spanned multiple media venues. It is also this creative genius that led him to make some of the most astonishingly accurate predictions of what would be future technologies, as listed below.
One of his earliest and most accurate predictions involved the use of satellite technology for global communications. In a paper written in 1945, just as World War II was winding down, Clarke wrote of the possibility of using a space station to transmit radio waves and television signals globally. He followed this paper with another article that same year, in which he discussed the placement of satellites that would orbit the earth and also transmit communication signals. While he did not invent the concept of a geostationary orbit, he certainly caused the popularity of the idea among the general public, and today, there are more than 300 such satellites in orbit around the globe providing us with everything from satellite tv (more info here) to satellite internet (click here for more information).
And speaking of the internet — Clarke anticipated that, too. During a 1974 interview given to the Australian Broadcasting Network, Clarke was asked by the reporter about what the future would look like for young adults at the dawn of the 21st Century. Clarke then went on to speak about electronic data hubs that people would use to communicate with friends and family anywhere on the globe and to be able to access their bank statements, purchase theater tickets, and more through their home computer setup.
Along with the prediction about the internet, Clarke described what would someday become the personal computer. He went on to describe how every household would have a computer that would fit on a desktop or table, with a screen and keyboard through which they could communicate socially and conduct business.
That’s right — Clarke also anticipated telecommuting. Going back to an earlier interview, in which he qualifies his predictions by saying they likely sound outlandish to an audience in 1964, but the more outlandish the predictions, the more the future will find them astonishing should they prove to be accurate. In the case of telecommuting, Clarke describes what he foresees as a time when man will be able to conduct his business from anywhere on the globe with the same success and efficiency as if he were in his office. Clarke also looked upon this concept favorably, as he thought it meant that businessmen would not be required to live in congested cities.
Another a prediction that was made more indirectly through his work was the iPhone or iPad — or more broadly, the multi-functional electronic tablet with a simple-to-navigate touch-screen interface. Clarke’s characters in 2001: A Space Odyssey use technology that bears a remarkable resemblance to what would become the iPhone and more specifically the iPad. Called the newspad in Clarke’s work, the description of it states that it could not only receive business communications but also could call up what Clarke called electronic newspapers and other information from anywhere on Earth. Even the rough shape and size of the device mirrored what would later become Apple’s iPhone and iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy tablet.
There is no doubt that Clarke was a visionary living ahead of his time. In most cases, he attributes his ability to predict future technologies to the same imaginative and creative faculties that allowed him to create such popular and prolific science-fiction works. Being able to see the current technology of his time and extrapolate on what it could become was Clarke’s gift to us all.
My first thought when the iPads were introduced was, “That’s Clarke’s newspad come to the real world.” I still wonder about the similarity of the names.
Though smaller in scope, the two way wrist radios worm by Dick Tracy do predate Clarke’s predictions. The wrist radio appeared in 1946.