The British scientist and writer Arthur C. Clarke, author of the novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” that was so successfully made into the cinema, anticipated 40 years ago what the existence of human beings would be like in the future. Reading today the long article that he signed on ABC in 1977 produces a certain chill, of how accurate some of his predictions were. He could not even imagine that humanity would go through one of the worst epidemics in its history in 2020, which would force people to confine themselves at home, but he did predict that telecommuting would be a reality. «The day is coming when office workers and intellectuals will do their jobs without leaving their homes“Predicted this visionary author.
Clarke was convinced that instantaneous communications with the most remote places in the Universe and the progressive automation of much of man’s work would radically change the way of life of Humanity.
«Man is a communicative animal: he demands news, information, entertainment, almost as much food. Actually, as a functioning human being, You can survive much longer without food – and even without water! – than without information“Began the famous scientist and writer. It had been demonstrated by experiments in sensory deprivation, and for him it was a “truly amazing fact around which a whole philosophy could be built.”
“In practice, then, any fundamental advance in communication skills is possible, and that advance will undoubtedly be widely disseminated as soon as it can be put into practice,” he predicted more than a decade before the Internet was born. .
Clarke recalled that in 1876, when news of the telephone arrived in England via the submarine telegraph cable from Cyrus Field, the head of the Post Office was asked whether the new American invention would have any practical value. “His answer was:” No, sir. The Americans need the telephone, but we don’t. We have a lot of messengers. ” Would they have dreamed, a hundred years ago, that a time would come when this primitive toy would not only be in every home and office, but would be the essential basis of all social, administrative and commercial life in the civilized world? Or that one day there would be approximately one device for every 10 human beings on the planet? ”He wondered. (What to say now, when more than 90% of Spaniards have a smartphone)
By 1977 “the basic ingredients of ideal communication tools” were in use, Clarke continued in his article. The computer normal, with keyboard and visual screen, plus hi-fi sound and TV camera, it was “almost” a given. «With this instrument we could have face-to-face interaction with anyone from anywhere of the earth and send or receive any type of information», He anticipated.
The scientist also considered other possibilities. “Do we really need a keyboard?” Clarke was sure that everyone would then answer “yes,” because he wanted to type the messages, observe them, and edit them before transmitting them. «A reliable voice recognition system, capable of reproducing accent, inadequacies and “human error” is something more complex than a simple alpha-numeric keyboard, “he admitted.
However, he had concluded that people would have such a device in the next century. “Although most of us will still dial the numbers in 2001, I have no doubt that before 2077 you will simply say to your device: “Put me with Fulanito de tal”». There was no need to wait that long. Today it is already a reality on our phones with voice recognition.
Telecommuting and email
Clarke went on to explain that it was clear that audiovisual media could complete the revolution initiated by the telephone. «The day is coming when office workers and, in general, intellectual workers do maybe 95% of their work without leaving home», He assured.
“Of course,” he correctly predicted again. the family computer would handle most of the current correspondence; the messages would be stored in its memory waiting for you to press the key when you wish. Then you will type the answer, or you will call the other party to chat ‘face to face’. ‘
Clarke only foresaw one serious problem: the annoying question of schedules. “These will be intolerable in the global electronic city, where we will all be neighbors, but in which a third of us will be sleeping at any given moment.” He believed that the global telecommunications network of the 21st century could abolish time zones. “Presumably, a common schedule should be established for the entire planet.”
«During the course of the day you will use the family computer to call your friends and take care of business, as you use the telephone now, but with this difference: you can exchange any amount of tabular, visual or graphic information “, he defended.
At the time, attempts to add vision to the phone – such as Bell’s viewer phone – had not been very successful, but Clarke was sure it was due to cost, small image size, and limited services. “No one would have predicted a great future for the first ‘televisions’, with their wavering images the size of a postage stamp,” he recalled, convinced that technical limitations would be overcome and screen telephones would become available.
He was also aware as early as 1977 of the limitless possibilities that computers offered as entertainment and information media. «At any time we can request the headlines of the news on the screen, and expand those that interest us to obtain a complete story with different levels of depth. For the first time, it will be possible to achieve an immediate, selective and in-depth information service».
«The electronic newspaper, in addition to its other merits, will have two ecological advantages. It will save entire forests for posterity, and cut the cost of collecting waste in half. This alone would be enough to justify it … and to pay for it, ”he added.
The scientist was aware that “virulent forms of addiction to news” could appear, which would give rise to the birth of “a type of people incapable of missing anything that is happening in any part and who will spend all their hours of life attached to the computer ». Clarke had even coined a name for them: ‘informatics».
He had more than once dreamed of having access from his home to all books and printed matter, to recordings and films, to all the visual arts of humanity. «What impression would it make to have the Library of Congress – all the world’s great libraries – at your fingertips?He wondered.
He also predicted that phones would lose their metallic umbilical cord and that it would be possible to contact anyone through a telephone-watch-bracelet. «It will save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. We all know of tragedies – car accidents, lonely roads, lost mountaineers, shipwrecks, even homeless situations – in which a means of communication would have meant the difference between life and death. Even an emergency system through which an SOS signal could be sent would suffice. It is a possibility of the immediate future; the only real problem is false alarms, “he said.
And among the functions that this watch phone could have, the possibility of containing a phone book stood out, «a memory to hold a few hundred of the most used numbers»As well as calculators. “It would be a constant company, serving the same purpose as a human secretary,” he wrote.
Electronics could also multiply teachers. By then a social experiment had been conducted in India, using a NASA satellite to broadcast educational programs to thousands of villages. That communications satellite was the only one that could then transmit signals that ordinary televisions could pick up. Clarke saw in this experience a starting point of a global education system via satellite, very low cost for the student. “It is difficult that there are better investments in the future health, happiness and peace of humanity,” he said before referring to future conversations from space or future interstellar travel. Who knows if a future future …