Clarke's Three Laws The context of Arthur C. Clarke's third law can best be analysed in the context of his first and second and then to look at the impact of his words in a popular context. To take a cynic's approach, maybe Arthur C. Clarke should have written his third law as follows; "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to those unfamiliar with that technology", as Dewdney has said. Especially with his argument of there are many examples, throughout history, of "technologically advanced civilisations encountering more primitive ones - airplanes and radios seemed like magic to those who first saw them". In the book 'Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible' he states his three Laws and says he will stop at that because both Isaacs (Newton and Asimov) only created three.

Then he goes on to actually producing another 60-odd. Though he continued to write laws, as we can see in the Appendix 2 of The Odyssey File where he states Clarke's 69th Law: "Reading computer manuals without the hardware is as frustrating as reading sex manuals without the software". His first law is nothing compared to the second and then to the third so there is a definite sense of improvement in his rule-making. I believe Clarke's first law first is a version of wry tongue-in-cheek: "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". Yet it touches on themes common to all: the enthusiasm of youth; the hazards of learned experience; dogmatism and absolutism.

As Bianchi claims, Clarke specifies what is 'elderly' with the following: "In physics, mathematics and astronautics it means over thirty; in other disciplines, senile decay is sometimes postponed to the forties. There are of course, glorious exceptions; but as every researcher just out of college knows, scientists of over fifty are good for nothing but board meetings, and should at all costs be kept out of the laboratory". Such an analysis lacks the faith and optimism that seems inherent to the genre of science fiction. An interesting definition has been quoted by Karl Jahn: In the end, this thing called "science fiction" is just that: the fiction of science. This is true in one obvious way, and another more subtle and farther-reaching. First, SF is the imaginative exploration of the possibilities opened up by science; and second, it is the literary expression of the scientific world-view.

This is a very pessimistic take on the future of self - to make statements that will be unbelievable to all but our cronies, who will also be dismissed. Then others would argue it is in favour of wisdom over misguided inexperience, or even that it is a healthy dose of the reality of human nature. In 1977, Isaac Asimov invented a corollary to this law as follows: "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, probably right. With his second law he begins to venture into the terrain we are accustomed with, where fantasy borders reality: "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible". This law is very much a motivational dictum and expresses concepts normally found in self-help and pop psychology sections, like 'seeing is believing'; 'the power of positive thinking' and 'feel the fear and do it anyway'.

But only with his third law do we touch on the aspect of magic. In 1972, in 'Tehcnology and the Future' Report on Planet Three, he stated that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Let me start with a collection of responses to this law, all of which appear very witty to their author. Professor Stepney at the University of York has collected several in her travels and here are some of these: "Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature".

Rich Kulawiec Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. - Murphy's reformulation of Clarke's law Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from a rigged demonstration. - programmer's restatement of Murphy's reformulation of Clarke's law "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced". Gregory Benford. Foundation's Fear.

1997 The first three of these look at analysing the law in terms of computer programming: 'bug' being a characteristic of a programme that was not accounted for, 'feature' as a planned characteristic. This law says that if programming oversights result in positive enhancements then credit should be taken. Benford's contribution is as cynical as the quote from Dewdney used above. The wry approach begs the question, why does a statement encapsulating faith and promise for the future of technology draw such negative responses? Is linking science to magic really such a dirty concept?

Dewdney claimed that "the "Third Law" was partially biographical and partially psychological - it embodied his boyish ability to marvel at machines and this marvel fuelled his science fiction". The hostility towards magic extends to a hostility towards another realm based on faith. Science fiction, much like the discipline of science, has not always been hospitable towards religious faith. Jahn writes of there being only two serious science fiction writers who wrote with a religious purpose in mind - CS Lewis and Olaf Stapleton. In the style of theological science fiction, Lewis "populated outer space with angels, and other planets with races that never fell from grace; but in the end he came back to Earth, and crossed the line into fantasy".

Jahn believes "Stapled on is more plausible, because he made no attempt to salvage anything of Christianity or the medieval world-view. His God is cold, aloof, and purely cosmological, creating cosmos after cosmos without pity or love for their mortal inhabitants". But Jahn's alternative to resorting to a religious world view is to rely on humanism. "The recognition that religion was a human creation, which fulfilled the natural human need to believe in something, and which expressed natural human hopes and fears; and rejecting only the false beliefs, hopes and fears, not their natural ground" Science fiction has always been a means of entertainment but ever increasingly it is a style of writing that is aims to address the concept of the future, expanding our knowledge and comprehension of science and technology and the exciting possibilities of their application in our evolving world. Paul G. Allen, cofounder of Microsoft and soon to be curator of the Science Fiction Experience exhibit (due to open next year in Seattle) said: "Science fiction has always been a vehicle for entertainment, but more importantly it's a genre that is forward-looking by nature, expanding people's views of science, technology and the future - and their exciting possibilities.

Whether presented in literature, films, comic books or the visual arts, science fiction reflects and comments on humankind's hopes, dreams and fears. It considers the implications of imagined science and technology on humanity - and sometimes that imagination dovetails with reality". In 1953, John W. Campbell said that "fiction is only dreams written out. Science fiction consists of the hopes and dreams and fears (for some dreams are nightmares) of a technically based society". To take the example of computers, we find the 'thinking machine' as a central theme in many works of science fiction and utopian novels. They are banned in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale.

It is considered a tool of human devolution in Dune. But there are also positive conceptions of the computer's ever-increasing impact on our lives. Ironic, considering there is no machine more insidiously part of everyday life already. Book publishing, with all its inefficiencies and clumsiness - miscalculating runs, stock overproduction and stock shortfalls, wastage and remainders - is to be changed in a revolutionary manner with the invention of some great and wonderful tool. Maybe this will involve computer generated orders or books on portable computers. Friday, in Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 novella, describes reading a paper book by turning the pages on the computer that is contained within a nitrogen environment.

Does that not remind us of the latest invention of a flexible paper computer screen, announced to the world only this year? But Isaac Asimov defended the book as a traditional format in a world of technology in a 1989 speech. He asked the American Booksellers Association to imagine a device that can go anywhere, is totally portable... Something that can be started and stopped at will [and] requires no electric energy to operate". This dream device is, of course, the book.

"It will never be surpassed because it represents the minimum technology with the maximum interaction you can have". Sherry Turkle believes "as human beings become increasingly intertwined with the technology and with each other via the technology, old distinctions between what is specifically human and specifically technological become more complex... Our new technologically enmeshed relationships oblige us to ask to what extent we ourselves have become cyborgs, transgressive mixtures of biology, technology, and code. The traditional distance between people and machines has become harder to maintain". Computer technology can benefit from the wisdom of science fiction. In discussing the potential benefits for the industry Patricia Zyska said: "the ability to dream and ask questions without fear is characteristic not only of science fiction writers - it's also important for participants in the digital economy".

The imagination gap is described by information technology analysts as a growing issue in the global information economy as business strategy fails to keep pace with technology. This is typical of a technologically deterministic environment rather than a user-centric domain. Rizzo credits Bob Crowley with the concept of the information gap and says most companies are either behind or ahead of technology. Rapidly advancing technology is exerting a fundamental and forceful influence on our everyday experience within Western society. Scientific developments are approaching, and in some cases have even achieved the futuristic visions initially conceived and represented by elements of Science Fiction. Science fiction is a way of examining future possibilities from the safety of the here and now.

By imagining the impacts of technology on our society and elaborating on those ideas and letting them play out amongst their characters, science fiction writers are able to test the social scenarios of the future and indeed play a valuable role in letting us interact with our hopes and fears. There are many examples of literary imaginings becoming physical realities, life imitating art, yet these incidents are not needed to justify its worth as a social tool. Even if plot and device are not emulated in the pages of history, the juxtaposition of imagined scenarios on the reader's cerebral backdrop allows us to imagine 'what if' and gauge our reactions. The benefit of this is self-knowledge and the confidence that follows. Reference List Allen, P. G (2003) 'Exhibits' Experience Science Fiction, web [7/10/03] Bianchi, R (1995) Arthur C. Clarke


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21 Zyska, P. (2001) 'Expand technology imaginations' Computer Dealer News, 30 November 2001.