This is a thoroughly predictable companion to my review of
Heinlein's prophecies for 2000 AD.
That old page already mentioned Clarke's rival forecasts (because
Heinlein's own postscripts did), and it would have made sense to
follow up with a 2001 page assessing them; but it's against the
rules to start mocking a prophet during his lifetime, so
publication of this page has been on hold.
The other problem with this comparison is that instead of being
obliging enough to give a list of hard predictions as hostages to
an eventual performance evaluation, the late Arthur C. Clarke was
more cautious. This may seem strange from someone who was
prepared to use specific dates as the titles of some of his
best‐known works of fiction; but his 1962 collection of
futurological essays, “Profiles of the Future”, took a
quite different approach – as indicated by its
subtitle, “An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible”.
Part 2: Laws
Oddly enough, the part of Profiles that has had most impact
on popular culture wasn't part of the original text. As
first published, the book didn't include any numbered “laws”:
those were an editorial addition for the French translation!
However, later revisions (in 1973, 1982, and 1999) adopted
Clarke's Laws into their footnotes.
(Nor, by the way, does Profiles say that all revolutionary
ideas pass through the three stages of “It's completely
impossible – don't waste my time”, “It probably
can be done, but it's not worth doing”, and “I knew it was
a good idea all along!” – that's from The
Promise of Space, 1968.)
Clarke's First Law:
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.
This stereotype of authority‐figures declaring things impossible
reflects Clarke's personal experience as an early advocate of
astronautics. Being fifty years younger naturally gives me a
quite different viewpoint: when I was growing up, the space race
was over, but government think tanks were predicting that given
funding they could build a global missile defence network of
X‑ray lasersats by the end of Reagan's term in office.
Most of it sounded like vapourware then, and another generation
later it's evident that it was. (Yes, I know there are
people who can't face this fact. I dare say they also still
think that if 'Nam goes Commie the rest of south‐east Asia will
fall like dominoes.)
Regardless of this clash of biasses, I have to acknowledge that
it's a handy rule of thumb. With a few caveats.
That's science; it's the heretics' job to prove their
novel idea works. If cold fusion had been replicable in
other labs, nobody would have cared that it seemed improbable.
When a brilliant young scientist states that something is
impossible even in principle, he may well be right. Many of
the most surprising discoveries of twentieth century science
were limits; absolute caps on velocity, observation,
calculation, and prediction.
On the other hand, when a distinguished but elderly scientist
from one specialised field starts declaring unlikely things
possible in another, it's probably time for his pills.
When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea
that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and
supports that idea with great fervour and emotion, the
distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all,
That mention of the public hints at the real issue, which is that
this law isn't about technological progress so much as the way
it's reported; and the journalistic prejudices it was designed to
counterbalance are those of a bygone era. These days if an
undistinguished biotech company flack says that in principle you
could genetically modify insects to secrete valuable
pharmaceuticals, the risk isn't that it'll be disbelieved; it's
that the labs will be besieged by a pitchfork‐wielding mob of
tabloid readers convinced that scientists have already done that
and need to be stopped before they start breeding giant
baby‐eating drug‐hornets for the sheer hell of it.
Clarke's Second Law:
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to
venture a little way past them into the impossible.
If what you're hoping for is clear‐cut predictions like
Heinlein's, Clarke's Second Law is always
going to look a bit of a cop‐out; he gets to churn out fantasies,
taking the credit if they materialise but ignoring all the
misses. This is especially noticeable with the highly
variable wish‐fulfilment level of the separate chapters (which
were originally published as essays between 1959 and 1961).
But Clarke was always more interested in grand panoramas of
things to come than in mapping current social trends, and it's not
as if he wasn't up‐front about it.
Then again, as any advertising executive will tell you, the limits
of the possible aren't always relevant. The Reagan‐era Star
Wars schemes influenced the course of the Cold War regardless of
their feasibility, while on the other hand there are plenty of
technologies that have been developed, proved workable, and
abandoned, like dirigibles and supersonic passenger jets.
Clarke's Third Law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from
This law is another one that lends itself to corollaries and
parodies, of which my favourite is “any technology is
indistinguishable from magic to the sufficiently retarded”.
And of course it's presented as upbeat, since again it's a
justification for flights of fancy – the point being
that you can't rule a technology impossible just because you can't
imagine it as a practical engineering project. However, the
down side is that you can't make useful forecasts about something
you're writing off as magic, so any sufficiently steep
technological slope necessarily creates an “event horizon” for
While that's a problem for writers of futurology, it has at least
given us a whole new subgenre of fiction that takes seriously the
idea of an exponential technological growth‐curve.
“Singularity” SF, such as Accelerando (which of course I'm plugging only so that I
can casually mention that I was briefly Charles Stross's Systems
Administrator while he was writing it), follows naturally from the
view of the future described in Profiles. So it's
striking how completely different it is from the subgenre Clarke
himself was most comfortable writing, with its sweeping cosmic
vistas in the tradition of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First
Clarke's Fourth Law:
For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.
You didn't hear about the fourth law? Well, yes, he did
promise to stop with the third (like “both the Isaacs”),
but the nineties edition of Profiles added this blatant
contravention of the standard do‐everything‐in‐threes
protocol. That said, I think I'm going to declare from this
point onward that the 1999 revised version doesn't get to count
here, since for all I know it might have been inspired by my
Part 3: Essays
Next up, quick highlights from each chapter of Profiles,
with comments. Instead of three laws, the book starts with
two “Hazards”, each of which gets a chapter to itself.
01) Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Nerve
The first reason people fail to foresee things, Clarke says, is
that even when given all the relevant information they refuse to
face the implications (compare Asimov's
Anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in
practice, no matter what the technical difficulties, if it is
desired greatly enough. It is no argument against any
project to say: “The idea's fantastic!”
It's some sort of mark of how things have changed that he needed
most of a chapter of examples to lead up to something that today
reads as a truism.
02) Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination
The second reason prophets fail is more forgivable (“and
more interesting”): the failure to acknowledge that there
might be crucial facts yet to be discovered that convert the
impossible into the trivial.
From their very nature, these breakthroughs can never be
anticipated; but they have enabled us to by‐pass so many
insuperable obstacles in the past that no picture of the
future can hope to be valid if it ignores them.
Personally I would add a third Hazard of Prophecy: the Failure of
03) The Future of Transport
A chapter about automated cars, Concorde, and Heinleinesque
pedestrian beltways, from which I unfairly pluck this one
sentence to quote:
In the cities, of course, the weather will be fully
controlled before another century has passed; and outside them,
even if we cannot control it, we will certainly be able to
predict it and make plans accordingly.
Meteorology is a good example of a field where unanticipated
breakthroughs (in this case in the mathematics of nonlinear
systems) have pushed hitherto plausible technologies back
towards infeasibility: even with supercomputers and satellite
data, we can't tell whether it'll be raining this time next week.
04) Riding on Air
This is full of enthusiasm about Ground Effect Machines (by which
he means hovercraft); and I'll admit I wish they'd got off the
ground. But the get‐out clause is there:
It is only fair to point out that the large‐scale use of
private or family GEMs may not be a very practical proposition
while we have to depend on the petrol engine. […] But
the petrol engine is on its way out, as any petroleum geologist
will assure you in his more unguarded moments.
My hovercraft is full of electric eels.
05) Beyond Gravity
On Cavorite, cities in flight, and the exploration of
Jupiter. Jupiter? Wouldn't that be a job for
I doubt this; in any event, there are always going to be
cases where robots get into trouble and men will have to get
them out of it.
So far we haven't bothered with anything even as fancy as
robots – just remote‐controlled vehicles with a
trivial amount of local processing capability. When one
gets into trouble, we radio it a software upgrade.
06) The Quest for Speed
This starts with a table illustrating the curve of the world
speed record over recent decades (from 100+ mph trains to
10,000+ mph orbital flights). Although refusing to
envisage atomic rockets (“I
do not believe that uranium and plutonium‐fuelled devices should
be allowed off the ground”), he projected this trend
Man's love of record‐breaking will presumably lead to
ultra‐high‐speed circuits of the globe as soon as they become
Not detectably; back in 1969, Apollo 10 hit 24,791 mph
(that's 11 km ⁄ s), and it still holds the
record for fastest‐ever manned vehicle to this day. Since
then we've given up on supersonic passenger transports, and we're
retiring the space shuttle fleet.
07) World without Distance
This chapter starts by taking teleportation fantasies seriously
and seeing where they lead. It ends with visions of a
society transformed by perfected transportation. In between
is a short interlude mentioning the possibility that on the other
hand perfect communications would reduce the need for
physical travel, since
Telecommunication and transportation are opposing forces
Thus once you've got the Internet, you can “telecommute” in to
work, do your shopping online, and join your MMORPG team‐mates
for a night on the virtual town without once setting foot outside
your room. Of all the topics Clarke prognosticated about,
this for some reason is the one Heinlein chose to
pick a fight about… demonstrating that
not only could he not make decent predictions, he couldn't
recognise them either.
08) Rocket to the Renaissance
Seen in retrospect, the pro‐astronautics propaganda in this
chapter is way over the top.
The road to the stars has been discovered none too
soon. Civilization cannot exist without new frontiers; it
needs them both physically and spiritually.
If reckless, unsustainable expansionism is a prerequisite for
civilisation, what was Imperial China? As far as I'm
concerned, people who go to places just so they can say they were
the first to leave footprints there are no more admirable than
the ones who get in the record books by attaching clothes pegs to
09) You Can't Get There from Here
Dealing with journeys to the centre of the earth, the surface of
the sun, and so on.
A man‐carrying, nuclear‐powered “subterrene” is a nice
concept for any claustrophobe to meditate on. For most
purposes, there would be little point in putting a man in it; he
would have to rely entirely upon the machine's instruments, and
his own senses would contribute nothing to the enterprise.
And more importantly, he wouldn't get to leave footprints.
10) Space, the Unconquerable
On the fact that even with magic stardrives, space is still too
big for space‐opera galactic imperialism.
Vega of the Lyre, twenty‐six years away at the speed of
light, near enough the point‐of‐no‐return for us short‐lived
creatures […] For no man will ever turn homewards from
beyond Vega, to greet again those he knew and loved on
What, not even if his journey takes him a subjective
(time‐dilated) week of hibernation, and his friends back home are
AIs and immortals? This may yet turn out to
be a Failure of Nerve.
11) About Time
Various wibbly ideas with a lot of hedging, but including:
If we ever learn to control gravity, we may also learn to
control time. Once again, titanic forces would be
required to produce minute time‐distortions. Even on the
surface of a White Dwarf star, where gravity is thousands of
times more powerful than on Earth, it would require very
accurate clocks to reveal that time was running slowly.
You'd think he'd have been in a hurry to update this once the
existence of black holes was established, but even the eighties
edition only added a line about neutron stars.
12) Ages of Plenty
This chapter on natural resources was optimistic on principle
(the final revised edition kept things positive by bringing in
plenty of new material about Space Elevators). But already
in the early sixties he included provisos to the effect that
we'd better get nuclear fusion working before it's too late.
If, as is perfectly possible, we are short of energy two
generations from now, it will be through our own
13) Aladdin's Lamp
On universal constructors, written long before anybody expected
self‐replicating “Santa Claus machines” to be the killer app
(let's hope not) of nanotechnology.
It is certainly fortunate that the Replicator, if it can
ever be built at all, lies far in the future, at the end of
many social revolutions.
He meant the kind of atom‐perfect Star Trek replicator you could
put a human being through, which is indeed
a tall order, but “3D photocopiers”
are coming along faster than anticipated.
14) Invisible Men, and Other Prodigies
This chapter is a string of ever‐more‐unlikely fantasies, ending
with the wild idea that a fourth spatial dimension might be a
neat way to account for recent anomalous discoveries in particle
physics such as parity violation.
In a Four Dimensional universe the distinction vanishes, and
so, accordingly, does the paradox now worrying the
physicists. The Nobel Prize committee can contact me
through my publishers.
Sorry, Sir Arthur – modern cutting‐edge physics
postulates at least half a dozen more dimensions than that!
15) The Road to Lilliput
On the limits of biological miniaturisation.
We can dismiss, therefore, those ingenious stories of midget
(or even microscopic) spaceships as pure fantasy. If you
are ever persistently buzzed by a strange metallic object that
looks like a beetle, it will be a beetle.
Or a nanotechnological mothership; just not a spaceship with
16) Voices from the Sky
The original version of this was an explanation of how
telecommunications satellites were going to work, so for later
editions he had to replace it with something still in the
future. For instance, on satellite TV:
The very profusion of available channels, each capable of
being received by most of the human race, will make possible
services of a quality and specialized nature quite out of the
Now that's Failure of Cynicism.
17) Brain and Body
A chapter larded with gullibility: Clarke thought hypnotically
recovered memories were eidetically accurate, attributed
fire‐walking to autosuggestion rather than simple physics, and
fell for the Russian Sleep Machine scam. But then there's
It is hard to think of any invention that would be more
valuable than the device which science fiction writers have
called a Mechanical Educator. As depicted by authors and
artists, this remarkable gadget usually resembles the
permanent‐wave machine at a ladies' hair‐dressers, and it
performs a similar function – though on the material
inside the skull. It is not to be confused with
the teaching machines now coming into widespread use, though
one day these may be recognised as its remote ancestors.
Teaching machines? [2009 PS: oh, like
18) The Obsolescence of Man
Clarke could see that the future would feature mighty mechanical
brains; unlike many, he even saw that they were ultimately going
to be tiny mechanical brains. The imminence of
networked commodity PCs still blindsided him, but:
For a few generations, perhaps, every man will go through
life with an electronic companion, which may be no bigger than
today's transistor radios. It will “grow up” with him
from infancy, learning his habits, his business affairs, taking
over all the minor chores like routine correspondence and
income tax returns and engagements.
The only part of this that now seems ludicrous is the assumption
that you'd stick with the same PDA/PA your mother bought you,
back in the days when quantum computers were a novelty!
19) The Long Twilight
Odds and ends.
Our Galaxy is now in the brief springtime of its
life – a springtime made glorious by such brilliant
blue‐white stars as Vega and Sirius, and on a more humble
scale, our own Sun. Not until all these have flamed
through their incandescent youth, in a few fleeting billions of
years, will the real history of the universe begin.
So we're not entitled to penalise Clarke for auguries that fail
to come true before the sun goes out…
20) Chart of the Future
There is no Chapter 20 – this is
another list that stops at 19.
However, there's an appendix featuring a timeline of
1800–2100 with forecasts for coming decades, and I thought
this would be a good place to mention that the introduction
And because I am trying to visualize ultimate goals,
there is little discussion of timescales (apart from a
light‐hearted “Chart of the Future” to be taken no more
seriously than all such predictions).
Okay, so now I've clarified that I can get on with ripping it to
Part 4: Predictions
Clarke's Chart of the Future had five columns, which I'll handle
one by one. Later revisions of Profiles left the five
categories unchanged, but rescheduled and reorganised a lot of the
contents; dates in the following with or
deletion tags indicate emendations, usually in the 1981
edition. For obvious reasons, I'm ignoring the retrodictions
placed before 1960, but I'm including only the items that were (at
some stage) due before 2060. Later decades were for all
intents and purposes the futurological equivalent of “Here Be
Column A: TRANSPORTATION
Manned vessels capable of getting out past low Earth orbit are
one of those technologies we've developed and then (at least
Space Lab. (1970s 1990s)
For my money, this was already fulfilled before Clarke
rescheduled it. In the process he pluralised it to
Space Labs, but we get to count Skylab plus Mir as two…
Lunar Landing (1970s)
Down as a successful projection; later versions renamed it
Moon Landing, but never corrected the decade!
Nuclear Rocket (1970s)
One he must have been glad to cancel.
Supersonic passenger transports, inserted retrospectively as an
unforeseen development, and (like a lot of the pre‐1960 entries)
as a sort of a “springboard” for later predictions, in this case
Planetary Landings (1980s 2000s)
The eighties revision substituted a reference here to imminent
Space Probes, clarifying that the late‐running prediction
was for manned missions.
Colonizing Planets (2000s 2050s)
This plummeted down the chart and changed title to Space
Colonies, which I suppose would include low‐orbit villages.
Earth Probes (2010s)
With our hunger for new petrochemical reserves you'd think we'd
be hearing a lot about mechanical moles, but we aren't (unless
you watch the movie “The Core”, which I don't recommend)… do news
editors always file it under “boring”?
Interstellar Probes (2020s 2100+)
This is a remarkable retreat, given that “Space Drive” was
due by 2070! It's not as if it would need a human pilot… or
even cost anything, once you've got Fusion Power plus
Space Mining plus Replicators.
Hypersonic Transport ()
The only things that need to be transported at Mach 5+ are
WMDs, but people occasionally claim they're going to build these
any decade now.
Deep Sea Probes ()
A couple of decades later than Earth Probes!
Couldn't you simply steer your subterrene under the
Mariana Trench and raise a periscope?
Lunar Settlements ()
This was inserted to accompany (and help excuse the delay of)
Colonizing Planets (originally above).
“Space Drive” (2050s 2060s)
The kind fuelled by pixie‐dust.
Column B: COMMUNICATION/INFORMATION
Communication Satellite (1960s)
Clarke's big successful prophecy, which became familiar enough
that he eventually got to abbreviate it to Comsats.
Mind you, he was visualising space‐stations full of radio
Pocket Calculators ()
Inserted after the fact as an unforeseen development, and as a
springboard for later predictions.
Video Recorders ()
Ditto – but this is now something of an abandoned
technology. Twenty years ago, most ordinary UK households
had the facilities for automatically storing a week's supply of
some favourite soap opera on portable, reusable cassettes.
These days VCRs are vanishing from the shops, but the nearest
thing to a replacement is the programmable DVD player/(re)writer,
a gadget most households don't have.
Translating Machines (1980s1990s)
Delayed and then cancelled; but those jokes you're thinking of
were about the seventies implementation – there are
handheld devices on sale today that'll take a stab at this.
What could possibly go wrong?
Personal Radio (1980s 2000s)
The eighties version calls it Universal Radiophone, which
more clearly matches “global mobile phone networks”.
Pocket Educators ()
This isn't the same as the Mechanical Educator he had
scheduled for the 2060s, so if it's not that and it's not books,
what did he mean?
Artificial Intelligence (2000s 2020s)
And yet Machine Intelligence Exceeds Man's is off in the
2090s, instead of beginning as soon as that first AI starts
getting hardware upgrades…
Global Library (2000s 1990s)
Apparently meaning something rather like the WWW, given that
it's one of the few climbers (though oddly he retitled it to
plain Libraries). Okay, so he didn't anticipate
Facebook or YouTube, but this is still more or less the only
feature of Tomorrow's World that I've ever looked forward to and
then ended up getting.
Telesensory Devices (2010s 2020s)
That is, remote sensing equipment you can patch into your nervous
system. Already slightly available if you're willing to
risk being Kevin Warwick.
Logical Languages (2020s)
I'm hoping that the reason this one vanished was that he realised
it was worthless. People have devised speakable languages
with algorithmically parsable grammars, and you can still
translate Jabberwocky into them.
By which I surmise he meant something more than production‐line
automata; it's not obvious why he cancelled the prediction.
After all, Artificial Intelligences sound like prime
customers for perambulatory machine bodies – assuming
HAL won't always blow every penny of his pocket money on RAM.
Contact with Extra‐Terrestrials (2030s)
This of course requires them to be available for
contacting. Wait, though – if these are
advanced, friendly ETs, why don't we get Matter
Transmitters until 2090? Maybe that's why later
editions watered it down to “Discovery of Extra‐Solar
Memory Playback (2050s)
The eighties revision left this in the same decade but changed
the name to Memory Recording, to match Video
Recording… unless maybe he was hinting that playback will
take another century to develop.
Column C: MATERIALS/MANUFACTURE
Efficient Electrical Storage (1970s1980s 1990s)
Battery technology made purely electric cars feasible quite a
while ago, but we're only now approaching the stage where it's
possible to get anybody to sell you one.
Solar Energy ()
This more or less counts, though it's taken a long time to get
people to start using it.
Ocean Thermal Power ()
Decades of experimental plants have yet to make this
Fusion Power (1990s 2010s)
Perpetually a generation away, and still looking good for being
up and running in only another twenty or thirty years.
“Wireless” Energy (2000s)
Running late, but there seems to be optimism that we'll have it
someday, if only with strings attached; so why was it
cancelled? [2020 PS: younger readers may need a
translation here – for Clarke, “wireless” meant
“broadcast from the transmitting station many miles away”.]
Sea Mining (2000s)
Manganese nodule mining was a handy cover‐story for Cold War
spook stuff, but it still isn't quite profitable.
Non‐Cryonic Superconductors ()
It's unclear what temperature Clarke was thinking of, but the
current record (−135 °C, −211 °F) is
already above the level of “cryogenics”.
Weather Control (2010s 2030s)
People have been trying cloud‐seeding since the 1940s, but
“control” is a long way off.
Space Mining (2030s 2050s)
Digging a rich seam of vacuum? What he meant of course was
asteroid mining – economically viable if there's a
nearby market (i.e. lunar colonies).
Transmutation (2040s 2060s)
Of elements, industrially; one to start daydreaming about after
we've got Fusion Power working.
Planetary Engineering (2050s 2090s)
Terraforming and so on; the eighties revision leapfrogs it down
past Climate Control (which makes more sense).
Column D: BIOLOGY/CHEMISTRY
Protein Structure (1960s)
Dropped, and not because it's a failed forecast; maybe it was
just a dull one.
Genetic Code (1960s)
This was hardly a prediction even when he made it, but it's
another “springboard” entry.
Organ Transplants ()
Inserted as an unforeseen development, and as a springboard for
Cetacean Languages (1970s1980s
This is another of those things you only get to discover if
they're there to be discovered. The eighties revision
vagues it down into Animal Languages, but still, you
might as well foretell the discovery of animal team sports.
Yet another thing you only get to discover if it's there to be
discovered. Clarke continued to list Planetary
Landings, so the fact he dropped this one (which would be
fulfilled by, for instance, unambiguous signs of biochemistry on
Titan) is an interesting shift in worldview.
Was this cancelled on the assumption that people would get
Organ Transplants instead, or was it only because it's so
hard to define? There are people walking around
with increasingly sophisticated prosthetics and artificial
organs, but how routine and how obtrusively cybernetic do they
need to be to count as fulfilling the prediction?
Split off in the eighties revision from
Bio‐Engineering. If he meant Dolly the Sheep, it's
quite accurate. If he meant the start of the Clone Wars,
Time, Perception Enhancement (2000s)
The eighties version retitles this Consciousness
Expansion. Given that he still put it decades in the
future this seems a misleading label for things like accelerated
perception. A miss.
Control of Heredity (2020s 1980s)
Replaced by the obviously imminent technique of Gene
Splicing, which gets it onto the “confirmed” list by ignoring
the question of whether we'd ever use it to control human
Brain Transplants ()
The problem with this eighties addition is, if you can splice a
brain into a foreign nervous system, presumably you can also fix
broken connections inside a living brain. So where are you
going to find body‐donors with unsalvageable brains?
Bio‐Engineering (2030s 2050s)
The eighties version clarifies this to “Artificial Life”,
while moving it down the list against the tide of biotech
optimism. That's still a fuzzy target, but people have
already produced bacteria with synthesised genomes.
Intelligent Animals (2040s 2020s)
Meaning animals with engineered IQ upgrades (mind you, uplifted
dolphins aren't Turing‐testably intelligent, because they can't
type). At present our efforts are working on the principle
that we can increase the average intelligence of the animal
kingdom by wiping out everything but rats.
Suspended Animation (2050s 2010s)
The results of the latest experiments on animals (using either
cryonic or chemical approaches) are getting less and less
revolting, so maybe this will turn up on time.
Column E: PHYSICS
Nucleon Structure (1960s)
Given that this was treated as a confirmed hit, it must mean the
discovery that nucleons were made of quarks.
A particularly obvious example of a thing you only get to
discover if et cetera et cetera (though in this case
it's an unforeseen discovery, inserted in the eighties edition).
Strange Particles ()
Gravity Waves (1980s1970s 1990s)
Binary pulsars provide good evidence of gravitational waves, so
everyone's sure they're there to be discovered, but we still
haven't managed to catch them. Clarke moved this up from
prediction to confirmed past event and then back to the future
as the early claims for direct detection crumbled.
Subnuclear Structure (2000s)
By which he meant sub‐quark (i.e. superstring/brane) theories, I
deduce. If theoretical models count, we were early; if he
wanted brane surgery we're likely to be very late (hence the
item's disappearance, perhaps).
Super‐Heavy Elements ()
Yup, steady progress has been made up through the transactinides;
elements around 120 may even turn out to be stable enough to
occur in nature.
Magnetic Monopoles ()
These are still up in the air, though it's suspected that they're
Nuclear Catalysts (2020s)
This would essentially mean cold fusion. In fact we've had
muon‐catalysed tepid fusion since the eighties… but unfortunately
it consumes more energy than it generates.
Gravity Control (2050s)
This had a whole chapter to explain how remote
the prospect was, so it was no surprise to see it vanish.
See also the following.
Space, Time Distortion (2060s 2050s)
For some reason this timewarps its way up the chart from nonsense
territory and strengthens from Distortion to
Control, just as Gravity Control
vanishes – some sort of merger?
Part 5: Conclusions
What, were you expecting me to end by awarding him a score?
That's a tricky one. Well, let's focus on the predictions
from the chart that were for a future decade when they were made,
but which we are now in a position to evaluate; by my tally there
are about two dozen. Of these, how many have come
true? I'd say there are at least half a dozen definites plus
about as many arguable or partial hits. There's no obvious
way of organising deductions for late arrivals (come to that, do
early arrivals give a bonus or a penalty?), so at present my best
estimate is that Clarke should get something like 35±10 %.
However, that's only an interim appraisal. As time goes by
and more decades on the chart become judgeable, we can expect the
figures to rise and (past 2060, especially) fall. Eventually
it will be possible to divide the list into prognostications that
arrived early, promptly, late, or never, and award a final score
on that basis. But I'm not going to be so foolish as to
pretend I can predict how soon that day will arrive!