Arthur C Clark and Bletchley Park…

There is no connection between Arthur C Clark and Bletchley Park other than they’re both in my thoughts at the moment. I’m reading one of Clarks books at the moment (Times Eye) and I still find him to be one of the best SF authors around. He understood the science, in a similar way to Asimov, which really helped him to predict or at least imagine how things might progress. Clark predicted communications satllites, space shuttle, super-computers etc. and inspired others. In 1940 he predicted that we’d reach the moon by the year 2000 an idea dismissed by others at the time. He said he never patented his idea for satellites because he never thought it would happen in his lifetime. I think these things happended directly as a result of him and his like. He inspired people to go out and make these things happen.

Bletchley Park is an inspirational place to visit. It’s a nerd heaven with the first computational device ever invented and a slate statue of Alan Turing (the father of computing) who worked there during the war. Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond)also worked there and during our short escorted tour we met the guy who has spent the past twelve years restoring the computer (Colossus) back to working order.  He did it using drawings and photos as all the original scematics were distroyed. All the valves are taken from ex-telecom exchanges and some of them date back to the second world war themselves. His anecdotes were my favourite part of the tour. he decribed the inventiveness that the code breakers used to decypher the messages passed by the Germans and the crazy ideas they came up with to try to capture a cypher machine. Ian Fleming had an idea of flying a German plane back to Germany pretending to be returning from a raid, crash it in a strategic place and then once there remove a device and return to England. It was decided that that idea was too risky but may others like it were tried. The way they cracked the codes is fantastic too. I went there with the delegates from the Microsoft Silverlight event, these people are some of todays IT industry experts but when we visited Bletchley Park my colleagues and I shared a sense that the real inventiveness took place all those years ago and we are just a pale shadow of that. Bletchley Park is the proof that necessity breeds invention.


About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

4 Responses to Arthur C Clark and Bletchley Park…

  1. anonemiss says:

    “Clark predicted communications satllites, space shuttle, super-computers etc.”

    I wonder how much of that was his own unique and original predication and how much of it were just setting down the fantasies and daydreams of a whole generation.

    I’ve never read Clark and have only read non-fiction books by Asimov, but I’ve always been suspicious by the veneration given to them, such veneration is very common in history and usually says more about those who give it than those who receive it.

    It’s curious that after the 60’s Clark’s predictive powers disappear, maybe he just lost touch with the working engineer who dreams more fantastic ideas in his coffee break than all the SF writers put together.

  2. willwoods says:

    In terms of the communications satellites he was very clear and precise about the details of how these would work. It was less of a prediction and much more of a scientific analysis.

    I take your point however that everyone can predict almost anything and something will stick. it’s a bit like people who are into astrology and live their lives by what their ‘star sign’ predicts they should do (I know some), the ‘atrologers’ make some general predictions and some of them will undoubtedly be correct and those that aren’t correct can usually be ignored or interpreted in a way that makes them almost plausable.

    I read books to escape from reality but I also like them to have some scientific basis that makes them plausable future scenarios, both Asimov and Clark deliver on that for me. I’m less interested in what a working engineer dreams because I know they won’t be able to make it into an intersting read for their colleagues or for me. I’ve read some really awful fiction in the past I’ve stuck with some real torturous novels before finally giving up and therefore I appreciate those that can put things down in a way that makes me want to be exploring the suface of one of Saturns moons or travelling faster than light.

    You sound like you may be somewhat bitter by the success enjoyed by SciFi writers. I think we should venerate people who excel in areas that require a level of skill rather than those who make their money by guessing lucky on stocks and shares or buying the right company or indeed taking you clothes of for lads maagzines. (not that I’m saying you venerate any of those people either!).

  3. anonemiss says:

    “everyone can predict almost anything and something will stick.”
    That is absolutely not my point! My point that “It was less of a prediction and much more of a scientific analysis” and hence he should be credited with setting down the scientific outlook of his times and not for “predicting” anything, i.e. he was not a visionary.

    “You sound like you may be somewhat bitter by the success enjoyed by SciFi writers.”
    It is very dangerous to call people “bitter” these days, don’t you watch the news?! I did not mean to single out SF writers, but I meant that people usually give veneration unduly, the day before I wrote the comment I had finished a book about Victor Hugo and the veneration he was given was on my mind. Such veneration could also be given to scientists, e.g. Newton & Einstein who are great but they stood on the shoulders of giants (as Newton himself confessed) and I might be a little bitter that such great giants of science are virtually unknown.

    By the way, I wasn’t criticizing your choice to read these writers, I meant the people in the 60’s and 70’s did not correctly judge the contribution of such writers (there is very little that they did back then that I approve of, but I should stop otherwise I will start to sound bitter!)

  4. willwoods says:

    Hi Anonemiss,
    Thanks for those comments. Point taken about standing on the shoulders of giants. History tends to record the breakthrough moments and not the process and people leading up to that breakthrough moment. (.e.g. discovery of theory of gravity or relativity etc.)

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