Column One: Sorry, folks - it's the end of the world as we know it

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The Independent Online
SIR ARTHUR C Clarke, the doyen of science-fiction authors, has written an obituary of the human species as seen through the eyes of an alien civilisation.

His latest work forecasting the sad demise of humanity in a massive double explosion of the Earth and the Moon is published in the science journal Nature. The latter usually confines itself to more prosaic matters of fact, but in the spirit of millennium angst, it is giving science fiction writers free rein until the end of the year to let their imaginations run riot.

The obituary is set some time in the future with a report about efforts to interpret the mysterious radio emissions emanating from a region beyond the alien's galactic backyard.

It emerges that, after a long period of barbarism, an unknown intelligent life learnt to harness energy from fossil fuels. They inevitably went on to construct vehicles for moving on land, through the sea and air, and eventually into space. Discovering electricity led to an explosive growth of global telecommunications, and to signals seeping out into space which eventually meant the life form - through its addiction to television soaps - being detected by its neighbours.

Then came a severe energy crisis, a nuclear age and, finally, the life form tapping the ultimate energy source of the Universe - the quantum fluctuations of space-time.

"What happened next is still a matter of conjecture. It might have been an industrial accident, or an attempt by one of their many competing organisations to gain advantage over another," the alien writes. "In any event, by mishandling the ultimate forces of the Universe, they triggered a cataclysm which detonated their own planet - and, very shortly afterwards, its single, large moon."

The alien species, although deploring the loss of a fellow intelligent life form, feels no regret. The "huge creatures" were fundamentally violent. "They were apparently on the verge of developing the necessary technology that would have allowed them to abandon their clumsy, chemically fuelled bodies and thus achieve multiple connectivity," the obituary says.

Had they succeeded in transferring their consciousness to computers, they would have threatened every civilisation in the region of the galaxy. "Let us ensure that such a situation never arises again," the extraterrestrial says.

It is believed to be the first time Nature has reported on the demise of our own species from 100 million light years away.

Sir Arthur dedicates the obituary to the two scientists who claimed 10 years ago to have discovered unlimited source of energy in the form of cold fusion.