Thoughts from Sri Lanka

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke Knighthood Clarke Interview Clarke with Kavan Interview screening at CMU
Knighthood certificate Setting up for Video interview Arthur C. Clarke with interviewer Kavan Ratnatunga Interview Screening at CS.CMU "Earthware"
2000 March 15th 2000 August 30th 2000 October 19th

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Full Video Interview - 8 min
Real Player click 59. MB ; click 2.0 MB ; click 1.0 MB .


Kavan - Hello Arthur, I am glad to be able to visit you in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and thank you very much for agreeing to answer a few question on your views on Computers and the information technology revolution.

Clarke - Fine . I will answer or evade them as the case may be.


Question 1 click6.35 MB click 0.22 MB
Kavan - What effect do you see the accelerating development of information technology on the gap between rich and poor?

Clarke - Well the gap between the rich and the poor which is enlarging because of technology. It could be narrowed because equipment is becoming cheaper and there is no reason why every village in Asia and Africa shouldn't have at least one little workstation so the people would come to it. You don't need one in every house or every hut but the technology should be available, whether it will be or not is another question depending on politics and economics. But I think technology, information technology can reduce the gap, but there it depends on us whether we will use it for that purpose.


Question 2 click 4.89 MB click 0.17 MB
Kavan - Do you agree that in the internet age information should be free, with all of its implications concerning intellectual property and creative work?

Clarke - Well more and more seems to be getting free these days including telephone calls and the argument about intellectual property hits me in my pocketbook. If everything was free and you weren't paid for anything, nobody would do anything. So there has to be some arrangement for the people who create things should be rewarded in some way, hopefully not in dot.com stock.


Question 3 click 5.53 MB click 0.19 MB
Kavan - What nightmare scenarios - if any - do you foresee for the use of computers?

Clarke - Well I think we are already involved in one nightmare scenario. I mean how much of one's day is now spent on email. I find it absorbing more and more of my time. I haven't had it cut into my sleep yet but I fear that is inevitable. So that's something, which is already, begin to devour our time. And you know we know longer have any time to think, to meditate and that's a real problem. So one tends to react to whatever is happening but we don't have time to sit back and think, "what should I do?, what the best thing to do?"


Question 4 click 9.12 MB click 0.32 MB
Kavan - The promise of technology has often been to lessen the work load of human beings and provide a life of leisure. However, in many ways, people are working as hard as if not harder than ever. Do you think this trend will finally be reversed in the next half-century?

Clarke - I can't see the any reversal but it does seem to be continuing but it will hit a limit. I mean we can't work more than twenty four hours a day. I am terrified that some one will invent a drug or something that will enable us to stay awake permanently. I think that would be the last information anyone will make. I think we do need sleep in order to sort out our day's activities retrospectively and to download the junk that's accumulated in our hard disks during the day. But information technology and computers enable us to do so much more but because of that we tend to do much more. I have sometimes said that far from being labor saving or time saving devices computers enable us to do ten times as much in twice the time.


Question 5 click 8.07 MB click 0.28 MB
Kavan - The Time Machine portrays a future where the human descendants became physically, mentally, and morally diminished because they no longer found challenges to overcome. Do you see this scenario as plausible over the next 50 years, or even farther out?

Clarke - Well the Time Machine was Well's masterpiece. I have a signed portrait of him just above my head at the moment. He imagined the world dividing these into two species almost. The Feet, creatures who lived on the surface and were looked after and all their needs were provided by the workers underground at a terrible cost because they were eventually eaten by the workers underground. It's a terrifying scenario and you know ... it could be possible at least ... but it I think the division will be between humans and robots not two species of human.


Question 6 click 2.99 MB click 0.10 MB
Kavan - Until we are technically more capable than we are now, do you see any bans make sense for the use of information technology?

Clarke - I can see good arguments for trying to impose a ban on certain areas but I don't think it would be practical because whatever happens, some ingenious guy in a garage somewhere will do it anyway.


Question 7 click 11.53 MB click 0.40 MB
Kavan - As mankind evolves through the stages of (a) hunting/gathering, (b) agriculture, (c) industry, (d) services, (e) information ... what is the next stage(s) on the horizon? That is, when we have "exhausted" the information stage, e.g., by Robots with AI doing all the mental and physical work that we do now, what could come next?

Clarke - Well we can never exhaust information. The universe is infinite and fast as information content is concerned. In fact, when we take a tiny little bit of knowledge lets say mathematics and even other areas, infinite, you can never exhaust that. And the danger of running out of challenges or interesting things to do but I am afraid that virtual reality you know, which is going to be the next big thing and so much more attractive than real life that people just won't make the effort to these things and just lie back and enjoy inputs into their brains and that could very well be the end of the human race, that's an old idea in science fiction of course. And Lawrence Manning wrote a story again more than fifty years ago called the "City of Living Dead" which was about this ultimate stage where we are all the ultimate couch potatoes just plugged in and our computers feed us everything we want, but then they might get fed up with doing that and then unplug us and that would serve us right,


Question 8 click 4.40 MB click 0.15 MB
Kavan - Do you expect that advances in information technology will shed any light on God and Creator?

Clarke - Well the existence whether God exists or who created us of course and other fundamental questions and this was summed up in a famous story I think by Frederick Brown who must be half a century ago when the ultimate computer is built and they ask him is there a God, he says " Now there is"


Clarke - This is Arthur Clarke saying goodbye to my friends.

Kavan - Thank you for this interview. I hope we will have the opportunity to continue this dialog at a later time.

This Inteview was presented at the Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science symposium,
"Earthware: a good world in 2050 . . . will computers help or hinder?"
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, USA.

Original draft of Questions from Dr Raúl E. Valdés-Pérez
Dept. of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.

Interview by Dr Kavan U. Ratnatunga,
Dept. of Physics, Carnegie Mellon University.

Video Taping by Suren de Silva, Video Image, 15 Skelton Road, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka. Tel:011-94-1-599900 Fax:011-94-74-512232

Video Interview edited June 2001 for TheLankaAcademic published by LAcNet
by Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Grade 10, Schenley High School, Pittsburgh, USA.

If anyone is willing to download the higher resolution 60MB file and transform it to other common video formats like .mov .avi etc please let me know a URL where I can pickup the transfomed video.