Wednesday, March 19, 2008
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (Clarke's Third Law)
How do you summarize a man like Arthur C. Clarke? The 90-year-old futurist and science fiction writer, who described himself as a "serial processor", died yesterday in Sri Lanka, his long-time home. Among the authors of the Golden Age of the genre in the 1950s, Clarke is a giant whose creative ideas have found purchase in the real world -- most notably the notion of a synchronous communication satellite, which he envisioned in 1945, but which did not become a reality for 20 more years.
Clarke's The Deep Range (1957) painted a world economy that harvested the bounty of the sea and incorporated humans adapted to that environment. In his earlier works, there is a strong scientific element that lends credibility to the worlds he envisioned. His more recent work has added more deeply philosophical themes. Clarke is probably best known for his book and co-authorship with Stanley Kubrick of the screenplay for the epochal 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequels to that cultural milestone -- but his two most compelling contributions may be the ability to envision worlds and societies based on premises other than our own, and his dramatic and effective advocacy of science and technology.
He has not squandered celebrity, but used his iconic status to draw public attention to things of global importance. We owe him gratitude not only for his remarkable talent for cerebral entertainment, but also his exceptional ability to make us think. Especially noteworthy now is this 9-minute video, which he prepared on his 90th birthday last December -- as usual, rich with forward-thinking ideas.
Not a few Googlers are who they are today because his work has been a source of inspiration and aspiration. We take a tiny bit of pride in the fact that Google is a "sufficiently advanced technology" that will make it easy for millions of people to find him.
Perhaps the most fitting summary of his life, paraphrasing the famous Vulcan greeting, is that he lived long and prospered! May his views continue to inspire for eons.