Sci-Fi Writer Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964: Artificial Intelligence, Instantaneous Global Communication, Remote Work, Singularity & More

Are you feel­ing con­fi­dent about the future? No? We under­stand. Would you like to know what it was like to feel a deep cer­tain­ty that the decades to come were going to be filled with won­der and the fan­tas­tic? Well then, gaze upon this clip from the BBC Archive YouTube chan­nel of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke pre­dict­ing the future in 1964.

Although we best know him for writ­ing 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1964 tele­vi­sion view­ing pub­lic would have known him for his futur­ism and his tal­ent for calm­ly explain­ing all the great things to come. In the late 1940s, he had already pre­dict­ed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites. In 1962 he pub­lished his col­lect­ed essays, Pro­files of the Future, which con­tains many of the ideas in this clip.

Here he cor­rect­ly pre­dicts the ease with which we can be con­tact­ed wher­ev­er in the world we choose to, where we can con­tact our friends “any­where on earth even if we don’t know their loca­tion.” What Clarke doesn’t pre­dict here is how “loca­tion” isn’t a thing when we’re on the inter­net. He imag­ines peo­ple work­ing just as well from Tahi­ti or Bali as they do from Lon­don. Clarke sees this advance­ment as the down­fall of the mod­ern city, as we do not need to com­mute into the city to work. Now, as so many of us are doing our jobs from home post-COVID, we’ve also dis­cov­ered the dystopia in that fan­ta­sy. (It cer­tain­ly has­n’t dropped the cost of rent.)

Next, he pre­dicts advances in biotech­nol­o­gy that would allow us to, say, train mon­keys to work as ser­vants and work­ers. (Until, he jokes, they form a union and “we’d be back right where we start­ed.) Per­haps, he says, humans have stopped evolving—what comes next is arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (although that phrase had yet to be used) and machine evo­lu­tion, where we’d be hon­ored to be the “step­ping stone” towards that des­tiny. Make of that what you will. I know you might think it would be cool to have a mon­key but­ler, but c’mon, think of the ethics, not to men­tion the cost of bananas.

Point­ing out where Clarke gets it wrong is too easy—-nobody gets it right all of the time. How­ev­er, it is fas­ci­nat­ing that some things that have nev­er come to pass—-being able to learn a lan­guage overnight, or eras­ing your memories—have man­aged to resur­face over the years as fic­tion films, like Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind. His ideas of cryo­genic sus­pen­sion are sta­ples of numer­ous hard sci-fi films.

And we are still wait­ing for the “Repli­ca­tor” machine, which would make exact dupli­cates of objects (and by so doing cause a col­lapse into “glut­to­nous bar­barism” because we’d want unlim­it­ed amounts of every­thing.) Some com­menters call this a pre­cur­sor to 3‑D print­ing. I’d say oth­er­wise, but some­thing very close to it might be around the cor­ner. Who knows? Clarke him­self agrees about all this conjecture-—it’s doomed to fail.

“That is why the future is so end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Try as we can, we’ll nev­er out­guess it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Arthur C. Clarke Read 2001: A Space Odyssey: A Vin­tage 1976 Vinyl Record­ing

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future on The David Let­ter­man Show (1980)

How Pre­vi­ous Decades Pre­dict­ed the Future: The 21st Cen­tu­ry as Imag­ined in the 1900s, 1950s, 1980s, and Oth­er Eras

Octavia Butler’s Four Rules for Pre­dict­ing the Future

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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