Arthur C. Clarke Predicted the Dark Side of Smartphones Back in 1976

By Matt Novak on at

Sci-fi writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke made it his business to look forward. And just like the dozens of prognosticators who would come before and after him, he got a few things right and a few things wrong.

AT&T has just uploaded a video from a conference at MIT wherein Clarke describes the future from the vantage point of 1976. Of course, it's fascinating to hear him talk about the death of the newspaper, long before physical newspapers actually saw a major decline. And his vision for what sounds an awful lot like networked computing feels prescient…

That said, his predictions about time zones, telecommuting and transportation weren't exactly home runs. As with all prognostication, whether Clarke's predictions were accurate or not are certainly open to interpretation…

On Communications

We're going to get devices which will enable us to send much more information to our friends. They'll be able to see us, we'll be able to see them and exchange pictorial information, graphical information, data, books and so forth.

On the Ideal Communications Device

It would be a high-definition TV screen and a typewriter keyboard and through this you can exchange any type of information, send messages to your friends. They can read it [and] when they get up they can see what messages have come in the night. You can call in through this any information you want: airline flights, price of things at the supermarket, books you've always wanted to read, news selectively.

You'll tell the machine I'm interested in such-and-such item — sports, politics and so forth — and the machine will hunt the main central library and bring all this to you selectively. Just what you want, not all the junk that you have to get when you buy two or three pounds of wood pulp, which is the daily newspaper. [...] The newspaper is on the way out. We're not gonna ship all this tons and tons of paper around when all you need is information.

On Transportation

This is how we're going to solve the traffic problem — not by covering the world in concrete, but by getting rid of the traffic. In the world of the future, travel will be for pleasure, not necessity.

On Time Zones

In the global village of the future, it will be like living in one small town where at any time about a third of your friends will be asleep but you won't even know which third. So we may have to abolish time zones completely and go on a common time for everybody, which will cause all sorts of problems.

On Smartwatches

The wristwatch telephone will be technologically feasible very soon. And so the telephone will no longer be sort of fixed in one place. It will be completely mobile. And this would again restructure society.

And of course it has disadvantages as well as advantages. Anyone can get at you any time they like. Of course you could switch off the calling signal, but then you might have to explain later why it was switched off. But the advantages are so great, the number of thousands of lives saved every year by such a thing and that seems to me to override almost all other considerations.

Here's the MIT video in full:

This article originally appeared on Paleofuture, a Gizmodo blog looking into the future that never was