Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Profiles of the Future - An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible

Author:      Arthur C. Clarke
Published:  1965
Publisher:   Bantam
Paperback: 240 pages
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Readers in India

The author Arthur C. Clarke a renowned science fiction author who was also a distinguished scientist and inventor wrote the first edition of this book  way back in 1962 . Subsequently he updated it a few times to sync up with the latest developments in science and technology. The 1965 edition which I just finished reading, was purchased by my dad in mid-sixties. And having  just glanced at the cover of this book off and on over the last 40 years, it is only recently I chose to read it.
It was a cumbersome read in the sense that the book being almost as old as me , the binding had become weak and  its pages were falling apart every time I  turned them ! But what a  fascinating forecast of  what future has in store for us !
The predictions made by the author of the future are very imaginative and yet have a firm grounding on the laws of science and technology. He talks about - the fourth dimension, conquering  the laws of gravity, the exploration and colonization of  outer spaces,  mining the seas for energy and minerals, pulling asteroids to Earth to supply needed materials, breeding smaller size and more efficient men who consume
less food etc.
 When you read  this book , you will be astounded by author's vision. Some of his predictions have already come true, some are closer to becoming true and some are still  in the realm of fantasy.
 Here I would just quote a few extracts from Chapter 16 of this book - The Voices from the Sky. Just bear in mind that he wrote this in early 1960s

1. "In a few years every large nation will be able to establish  (or rent) its own space-borne radio and TV transmitters, able to broadcast really high-quality programs to the entire planet."
2. "The advent of global TV and radio coverage will end, for better or worse, the cultural or political isolation which still exists over the whole world, outside the great cities."
3. "... the time will come when we will be able to call a person anywhere on Earth, merely by dialing a number. He will be located automatically, whether he is in mid-ocean, in the heart of a great city, or crossing the Sahara."
4. "The business of the future may be run by executives who are scarcely ever in each other's physical presence. It will not even have an address or a central office - only the equivalent of a telephone number. For its files and records will be space rented in the memory units of computers that could be located anywhere on Earth:"
5."And so the captains of industry of the twenty-first century may live where they please, running their affairs through computer keyboards and information handling machines in their homes"
6. "The time will certainly come when surgeons will be able to operate a world away from their patients,..."
7. "Modern facsimile systems can automatically transmit and reproduce an equivalent of an entire book in less than a minute."

Wow ! Clarke  had  predicted - sattelite TVs, globalization, mobile phones, internet, telecommuting, telesurgery, e-books at least 20 years before they became a world-wide reality.
And I am glad that he lived to see these predictions come true in his lifetime. He passed away just two years back in 2008 at the ripe old age of 90.
However I could not say the same for my dad . He passed away in 1981. He was just 53.  I am sure he would have enjoyed the realization of the predictions he read in this book which he bought in mid-1960s.
I highly recommend this book to all the science and technology enthusiasts  and lay readers who have a flair for imagination.

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