Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Great Man Has Departed

At lunch today, I read that Arthur C. Clarke passed away. Even though he had a long life, dying at 90, what a terrible loss! The last living member of “The Three”, he represented a past where many aspects of our modern life were pipe-dreams. Throughout his life worked to promote a future that was both magical and empowering. Ars Technica wrote a truly stirring obituary that’s worth checking out but many others are of course commenting.

I was first introduced to Mr. Clarke at around fourteen when a friend recommended “Rendezvous With Rama” to me. Within a period of about a year I had read "Childhood’s End", "Imperial Earth", "Songs of Distant Earth", and of course, the 2001 books. "Songs of Distant Earth" especially had a profound effect on me. It remains one of the most haunting pieces of fiction I have ever read.

It’s a shame Mr. Clarke didn’t live to see any kind of massive and developed space exploration like what he often wrote about. At least he lived to see communication satellites (an idea he first propounded) become reality and to see space elevators move from “science-fiction” to “possibly possible”. While reading space blogs today, I came across several more news stories that demonstrate how badly we need people like Arthur C. Clarke. These stories point out the incredible good thinkers like Clarke can accomplish by encouraging innovative approaches to “impossible” or "outlandish" problems.

Firstly, scientists have presented a plan for building an ark of genetic and technological information on the Moon. The idea being that after a pandemic, global disaster or asteroid impact, the information is transmitted back down to Earth in order to help people rebuild. It’s an intriguing idea and they already have some ideas of expanding it past the initial stages.

The second item is that someone has created a website specifically requesting aliens to establish communication with Earth! They have essays by some of the world’s leading experts on speaking to ET. One of the most interesting essays is by David Brin, “An Open Letter to Alien Lurkers”. He mentions 12 possible reasons why, if aliens know we're here, they haven't answered. Centauri Dreams continued the discussion in an interesting post called "If the Phone Doesn't Ring, It's Me". Overall, both provide some very thought-provoking commentary regarding why no ET signals have been detected.

The third thing for today I discovered while exploring the second. In order to promote long-term thinking, someone founded the Long Bet Foundation. You publicly make a prediction and if you're correct, you win donated money. It strikes me as an excellent method of channeling humanity's natural urge to gamble into more "big picture" thinking. And when they say long-term, they're really not kidding: "At least one human alive in 2000 will still be alive in 2150." - Bet expires in 2150! From the predictions page is my favorite:
“By the year 2150, over 50% of schools in the USA or Western Europe will require classes in defending against robot attacks.”

Our planet is becoming the world that science fiction dreamed about. Not all the dreams, of course. It's been better than the nightmares and worse than the utopias, but well, that's reality. I wonder who the 21st century's Arthur C. Clarke will be? What will concern him? What projects will he (or she) dedicate themselves to? Perhaps in our super-technological world, we will be overrun by the descendants of Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. That the type of forward thinking they exemplified will become the norm. I dearly hope I live to see such a world. It would be interesting (in every sense of the word).

No comments: