Clarke's three laws

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Arthur C. Clarke formulated the following three "laws" of prediction:

Contents

Origins

The first of the three laws, previously termed Clarke's Law, was proposed by Arthur C. Clarke in the essay "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination", in Profiles of the Future (1962).[1]

The second law is offered as a simple observation in the same essay; its status as Clarke's Second Law was conferred on it by others.

In a 1973 revision of his compendium of essays, Profiles of the Future, Clarke acknowledged the Second Law and proposed the Third in order to round out the number, adding "As three laws were good enough for Newton, I have modestly decided to stop there". Of the three, the Third Law is the best known and most widely cited. It may be an echo of a statement in a 1942 story by Leigh Brackett: "Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned".[2]

Clarke's Third Law codifies perhaps the most significant of Clarke's unique contributions to speculative fiction. A model to other writers of hard science fiction, Clarke postulates advanced technologies without resorting to flawed engineering concepts (as Jules Verne sometimes did) or explanations grounded in incorrect science or engineering (a hallmark of "bad" science fiction), or taking cues from trends in research and engineering (which dates some of Larry Niven's novels). Accordingly, the powers of any future superintelligence or hyper-intelligence which Clarke often described would seem astonishing. It can be said that the third law is natural because "Magic" is a wish of human, and the science and technology develops to achieve it. However, Clarke wrote with great seriousness.

But in novels such as The City and the Stars and the story "The Sentinel" (upon which 2001: A Space Odyssey was based) Clarke goes further; he presents us with ultra-advanced technologies developed by hyperintelligences limited only by fundamental science. In Against the Fall of Night the human race has mysteriously regressed after a full billion years of civilization. Humanity is faced with the remnants of its past glories: for example, a network of roads and sidewalks that flow like rivers. Although physically possible, it is inexplicable from their perspective. Clarke's Third Law explains the source of our amazement as our limitation, rather than the impossibility of the technology.

In his 1999 revision of Profiles of the Future, published in London by Indigo, Clarke added his Fourth Law: "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert". This is similar to Gibson's law, which holds that "For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD".

References in other works

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