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Afterword by Arthur C. Clarke




 

My first serious attempt at technological prediction began in 1961 in the journal that has published most of my scientific writings—Playboy magazine. They were later assembled in Profiles of the Future (Bantam Books, 1964), which I am happy to say has just been reissued. Whatever philosophers or theologians may say, our civilization is largely a product of technology. It is a worthwhile—and sometimes humbling—enterprise to consider what those inventions were. Many of them we take so completely for granted that we forget somebody had to think of them first.

Let us begin with the earliest ones—the wheel, the plough, bridle and harness, metal tools, glass. (I almost forgot buttons—where would we be without those?)

Moving some centuries closer to the present, we have writing, masonry (particularly the arch), moveable type, explosives, and perhaps the most revolutionary of all inventions because it multiplied the working life of countless movers and shakers—spectacles.

The harnessing and taming of electricity, first for communications and then for power, is the event that divides our age from all those that have gone before. I am fond of quoting the remark made by the chief engineer of the British Post Office, when rumors of a certain Yankee invention reached him: “The Americans have need of the Telephone—but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” I wonder what he would have thought of radio, television, computers, fax machines—and perhaps above all—e-mail and the World Wide Web. The father of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, generously suggested I may have anticipated it in my 1964 short story "Dial F for Frankenstein” (Playboy again!).

As I reluctantly approach my 85th birthday I have two main hopes—I won’t call them expectations—for the future. The first is carbon 60—better known as Buckminsterfullerene, which may provide us with materials lighter and stronger than any metals. It would revolutionize every aspect of life and make possible the Space Elevator, which will give access to near-Earth space as quickly and cheaply as the airplane has opened up this planet.

The other technological daydream has suddenly come back into the news after a period of dormancy, probably caused by the “cold fusion” fiasco. It seems that what might be called low-energy nuclear reactions may be feasible, and a claim was recently made in England for a process that produces 10 times more energy than its input. If this can be confirmed—and be scaled up—our world will be changed beyond recognition. It would be the end of the Oil Age—which is just as well because we should be eating oil, not burning it.

Arthur C. Clarke

 


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