Farewell, Arthur C. Clarke
If you received an e-mail from me several years ago, you might have seen it end with this quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.
This line, which I'd seen thrown around without attribution on the Internet years before, was a snarky way to mock the tech industry's habits of hype. But it was also a nod to one of my favorite science-fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke, and his aphorism that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Clarke died at age 90 yesterday after a prolific career that saw him not just imagine the future but correctly predict a decent chunk of it. If you watch satellite TV or tune into XM radio, give thanks to Clarke, who popularized the idea of using geosynchronous satellites as telecommunications relays.
Should you someday climb to Earth orbit on a space elevator, give Clarke credit for putting that idea in people's heads as well.
Clarke wrote more than 100 books, but 2001: A Space Odyssey--in both its print and film incarnations--stands above them in pop-cultural significance. With its calm, bloodlessly homicidal computer HAL 9000, it gave us some of sci-fi's most memorable moments. The simple phrase "I'm afraid I can't do that" has never been the same.
Clarke was sadly wrong about the advances we'd make in spaceflight by 2001; there is no Pan Am space shuttle with connecting service to the Moon. But his portrayal of how humans might react to the discovery of evidence of an alien intelligence's presence near Earth--a bureaucratic frenzy to cover up the news until it could be properly dealt with--seems dead-on.
NASA paid Clarke one of the highest compliments possible by naming Apollo 13's command module "Odyssey," then repeated the compliment decades later with the Mars Odyssey probe orbiting that planet now.
(Closer to home, it can't be a coincidence that the condo down the hill from Washingtonpost.com's offices, with a street address of 2001 Clarendon Blvd., is called the Odyssey.)
And now, I may crack open my dog-eared paperback copy of 2001 yet again, just to remind myself of how many parts of Clarke's imagined future we need to get on with building.
Posted by: Silver Spring, MD | March 19, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Michael Bower | March 19, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JC | March 19, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chris | March 19, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Judith | March 19, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Warna Hettiarachchi | March 20, 2008 12:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Paul Hulbert | March 20, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Paul Hulbert | March 20, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 22busy | March 24, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Frank S. | March 24, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Teresa | March 24, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.