BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 17:35 GMT
Conversations with a science visionary
Sir Arthur C Clarke's office in Colombo
In later life, Sir Arthur rarely left his Colombo residence
The BBC's Alastair Lawson recalls an interview in Sri Lanka with the legendary science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke who died on Wednesday.

"Some time in the next century there is every possibility that a man may wake up, turn on his computer and be me met with the response: 'Sorry Dave I cannot do that.'

"I predict that a new species could well appear on earth - what I call robo sapiens - and by 2020 it's not impossible that we will be second class citizens on this planet."

So said Sir Arthur C Clarke, who was speaking to the BBC from his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka, shortly after he received his knighthood in June 2000.

Confined to a wheelchair and not breathing easily, Sir Arthur still showed all the qualities that earned him his reputation as a scientific visionary.

'Asteroid dangers'

Sitting in a large study surrounded by floor to ceiling book shelves, various computers and radio connected to a large aerial on the roof so that he could listen to his beloved BBC, Sir Arthur appeared to relish his life in Sri Lanka, living in a house that used to belong to the Bishop of Colombo.

"In my childhood I never saw a brown face," he said, "here I seldom see a white one. But I don't worry about that, because Sri Lankans are the best neighbours in the world."

So what exactly did worry Sir Arthur C Clarke in June 2000?

"Some of the greatest threats to mankind's future," he predicted eight years ago, "are global warming, pollution, gamma ray bursts and the threat of an asteroid hitting the earth."

The threat posed by climate change is now well known, but what exactly are gamma ray bursts and how great are the risks posed by asteroids?

"Gamma ray bursts are sudden outbursts of energy - several times more powerful than the sun - which may suddenly occur," he elucidated.

"If it happens during any of our lifetimes, we have all had it. I think that such a phenomenon may have affected evolution and if it happens again, there is nothing we can do about it.

President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka pays homage to Sir Arthur C Clarke
Sir Arthur says that he did not believe in the supernatural

"I wrote about the dangers posed by asteroid impacts in my book, 'Hammer of the Gods'. There were three such incidents in the 20th Century and we were lucky to get away with it. We might not be so fortunate next time."

Yet Sir Arthur stressed that the future need not be all doom and gloom.

"There is no reason why mankind cannot stop climate change," he said. "After all, who would have thought 40 years ago that a compact disc would be capable of storing an entire encyclopaedia?

"Or that the microchip would so radically change our lives for the better? Some of the gadgets we have today are indistinguishable from magic.

"So we have the know-how but do we have the desire to stop climate change?"

In 2000, Sir Arthur shared his spacious home with a Sri Lankan family and his beloved Chihuahua dog, Pepsi.

He moved to the island in the 1956 after stopping off there while travelling to Australia.

"People ask me why I have stayed so long here," he said, "and I tell them that the answer is simple: Thirty English winters!"

The scientist, a keen scuba diver, was also attracted to the island's rich marine life.


"When I arrived in Sri Lanka, I was a little disillusioned with life beneath the waves. I remember writing at the time that ultimately ocean life was crippled, because fish could not develop fire and fire is the basis of all technology.

"But when I saw first hand the amazing variety of marine life beneath the waves off the Sri Lankan coast, I found it hard to believe that anything we encounter in space could be more wonderful, weirder or more spectacular."

Sir Arthur C Clarke
Sir Arthur C Clarke: Sci-fi seer

The scientist was in high spirits after receiving his honour from the queen.

"I am delighted that my knighthood was for services to literature and to science fiction writing in particular," he said, "because this has been a largely unrecognised art.

"To me, science and science fiction writing are two sides of the same coin. Science fiction writing can only be valuable to us if it is written by someone who has some knowledge of science.

"As a science fiction writer, I strove not to describe the future. I tried to prevent it from happening."

And what of the afterlife? Did he believe in God?

"There has always been a mystical element to my writing," he replied, "but I have to say that I do not really believe in the supernatural or the paranormal.

"The idea of whether God exists or not has always intrigued me. I think mankind may spend a long time asking, why is there anything rather than nothing?

"At the same time I think it's important to remember that we are only a tiny part of a vast universe. An element of humility is required here."

And his final predictions for the future?

"I am sure we will be going back to the moon, maybe by 2010 - but that may be too early - and after that to Mars.

"I still believe there could be life there."

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific