Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arther C. Clarke, 90, dies

So long, old friend, and here's to seeing you again someday.

The model of hard sci-fi writers the world over, best known perhaps for inspiring the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I didn't see until later in life) was a highly influential force in my early reading and ultimately in my philosophy and world-view.

Although commonly known among sci-fi enthusiasts and others, Clarke's three laws of prediction:
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
were not actually the part that influenced me.

Ultimately, the implications for human life and its interaction with technology was always what gave me pause.

For example, in the Odyssey series, humans tend to consider the monoliths "godlike", yet Clarke tells us (from the Bowman+Monolith persona) that they were merely machines. Machines which had developed programming errors over time. In other words no matter how amazingly impressive the technology, your faith does not belong there; technology can and will fail.

Also we see that humans, no matter the clothing or the technological trappings, are still pretty much human. Human nature still creates conflict and confusion. Over and over, the implications for the future are that we can and will adapt and survive, if only barely. And we will invariably do so while maintaining the same basic humanity that we have now. Which is not necessarily what we would like to believe it is.

So perhaps these are Clarke's other laws:

Technology is fallible.

Humans will be human.

:: Edit::

On a related note, Kurzweil and company, should make a note of these while making claims about what human-machine integration will do for us.

I don't dispute or even discourage the fact that such things will happen... I just don't think it will be the cure for all ills the Kurzweil Contingent would have us believe.

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