Arthur C Clarke: science fiction turns to fact

The futurologist, engineer and writer, who died last week aged 91, showed an uncanny ability to predict technological advances

Raymond Whitaker
Sunday 23 March 2008 01:00
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Five he got right:

1. Clarke was the first to suggest that satellites which remain at a fixed point relative to Earth could be used for worldwide communications. The geostationary orbit is now known as the "Clarke orbit".

2. The father of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee credits Clarke's short story, Dial F for Frankenstein, as an inspiration.

3. In his novel Rendezvous With Rama, Clarke created "Project Spaceguard", a system to track asteroids that might collide with Earth. When such a system was set up in 1996, it was called "Spaceguard", in homage.

4. The space station, now under construction, was put on screen in 1968 by Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

5. In 1951 Clarke envisaged nuclear-powered spacecraft, a prediction that came true with several satellites, launched by the Soviet Union, which had small reactors on board.

Five yet to come true:

1. In The Fountains of Paradise (1979), a "space lift", a geostationary satellite tethered to the Earth's surface, allowed people and goods to travel up and down without having to blast into orbit. Carbon nanotubes may make the 22,000-mile-long tether feasible.

2. Prince Harry, are you aware that in 2001, Clarke predicted that you will go into space in 2013?

3. By 2025 the brain's functions will be fully mapped, allowing us to experience full sensory immersion, making today's virtual reality seem tame.

4. In a decade or so artificial intelligence will catch up with the human brain. Then there will be two intelligent species on Earth – biological and non-biological.

5. By 2040, a "universal replicator", capable of cloning anything from caviar to diamonds, will create a society in which information is the only thing of value.

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