Arthur C. Clarke`s Legacy: Nothing Is Impossible

 
 
By Lawrence Walsh  |  Posted 2008-03-19
 
 
 

In my eyes, Clarke’s legacy isn’t his voluminous body of work, but rather his inspiration to believe that nothing in technology is impossible.

In the dying days of World War II, a little known British Royal Air Force officer working in radar-guided aircraft navigation wrote a memo to his superiors about the possibility of launching geosynchronous satellites in orbit for telecommunications. His memo was ignored.

The officer then submitted an article on the topic to a telecommunications magazine, which also dismissed the idea, calling it too fantastical. It was 1945, and space travel was nothing more than the subject of pulp novels. Dismissing such ideas wasn’t illogical, since few people knew the atom was about to be cracked and commercial air travel was still in its infancy.

Nevertheless, this RAF officer is credited with coming up with the concept of satellite-based telecommunications, a technology and industry that wouldn’t become a practical possibility until 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik. His name, of course, was Arthur C. Clarke, best known for his novel and movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Clarke, who died yesterday, was a visionary. He understood the insuppressible power that came when someone combines imagination and technology. Over the course of prolific writing and research career, Clarke pushed the boundaries of the conceptual, exploring the origins of our species and potential of our technology.

Technology and business is replete with stories of people who conceived of fantastical ideas that were initially dismissed because conventional wisdom decreed that there would be no markets for their inventions or that development was impossible. Yet, we live in a world that is full of commonplace tools that make business and life easier.

Consider this: In 2001, Clarke and his collaborator, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, conceived of interplanetary travel enabled by placing the crew in suspended animation for the long journey. Running their large ship was the HAL 9000, a computer with artificial intelligence. It was an amazing idea, considering that it was 1967 and the Apollo spacecraft that took U.S. astronauts to the moon had less computer processing power than most contemporary scientific pocket calculators.

The world has desktop computers, cellular phones, grid computing, portable media and two-way video communications because of visionaries like Clarke, who imagined both things he would and wouldn’t see in his lifetime. In the span of his life, attitudes have changed and innovators are not cavalierly dismissed for their fantastical ideas. We now live in a world where anything possible, given enough time and ingenuity.

Business and technology leaders should embrace their visionaries and innovators. They should cultivate new ideas and give people the latitude to explore the boundaries of their technology. Every business should have the openness to expand its potential through the eyes of their dreamers.

In my eyes, Clarke’s legacy isn’t his voluminous body of work, but rather his inspiration to believe that nothing in technology is impossible.

 

Lawrence M. Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine. Share your thoughts on innovation and technology with him at lawrence.walsh@ziffdavisenterprise.com.