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Thread: Clarke magic in 2019

  1. #1
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    Clarke magic in 2019

    IIRC Clarke gave his "sufficiently advanced technology" statement about future inventions whose scientific principles had not been discovered at the time (was it about 1960?).
    Are there any such? Maybe quantum computers? Something else?
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  2. #2
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    I’m pretty sure an iPad would seem magical to people in the early 60s.
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  3. #3
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    Not even principles but simply advancements in existing technology. From Wikipedia:

    Clarke gave an example of the third law when he said that while he "would have believed anyone who told him back in 1962 that there would one day exist a book-sized object capable of holding the content of an entire library, he would never have accepted that the same device could find a page or word in a second and then convert it into any typeface and size from Albertus Extra Bold to Zurich Calligraphic", referring to his memory of "seeing and hearing Linotype machines which slowly converted ‘molten lead into front pages that required two men to lift them’".[7]
    In 1962 computers existed although they were large, slow and difficult to use. You could see that they would grow smaller (in fact miniaturization was already well under way across all of electronics), but it was not as easy to see all of the potential applications.

  4. #4
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    Still, I think there was enough of a technological base at that time, so that people would recognize an iPad as a manufactured device. Sure, they'd be agog at it's capabilities but I don't think they would mistake it as being something truly magical. And I think that's a complication within Clarke's premise: as a civilization advances its technology, I think it becomes progressively harder for it to be fooled into thinking a more advanced technology is truly magical.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    IIRC Clarke gave his "sufficiently advanced technology" statement about future inventions whose scientific principles had not been discovered at the time (was it about 1960?).
    Are there any such? Maybe quantum computers? Something else?
    That's not my understanding of Clarke's statement ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). I always assumed the saying was more aimed at looking backwards - showing a caveman a flashlight, rather than showing a 1960s human an iPad.

    I completely agree with Peterscreek. I don't think anyone familiar with 1950s or 60s technology would have thought the iPad to be magical. Heck, Clarke's own fiction had similar devices (I remember that Rendezvous with Rama had technology called "memory pads" or something like that, which were tablet computers. Star Trek's tricorders and similar devices seem similar.

    Maybe I don't understand your question, but I can't think of any current or near-term technology that I would think of as magical. Even among technology described in science fiction, I can't think of too much I would think of as magical. A Star Trek transporter or a Dr. Who Tardis comes close. The powers of a being like Star Trek's Q seem magical, but I don't think I'd would describe them as technology either.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Maybe I don't understand your question, but I can't think of any current or near-term technology that I would think of as magical. Even among technology described in science fiction, I can't think of too much I would think of as magical. A Star Trek transporter or a Dr. Who Tardis comes close. The powers of a being like Star Trek's Q seem magical, but I don't think I'd would describe them as technology either.
    And that's the thing. Any technology that has been described in science fiction would be accepted as technology, even if we had no idea how it worked. Our (collective) imagination is always way ahead of our technological capabilities and so the threshold for something seeming magical just gets further away.

  7. #7
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    I think we can profitably flip it around, and ask what would seem like magic to someone in the 1960s - what effects did stage magicians aim to perform in order to give their audiences a sense of amazement? Not brandishing a book-like computer or demonstrating a rapid solution to the Travelling Salesman Problem, that's for sure.
    Antigravity, teleportation, vanishings and reappearances, restorations of destroyed objects, divining someone's thoughts ... Those are the things technology would need to do to "seem like magic".

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  8. #8
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    Actually, something doesn’t have to be that advanced to seem like magic. Here we are almost in 2020, and magnets still seem pretty magical to me.


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