Tag Archives: Arthur C. Clarke

Science rules of thumb

If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.

Arthur C. Clarke


When, however, the lay public rallies around an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.

Isaac Asimov

(reblogged from Futility Closet)

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Useless machine

A useless machine is a device that performs a mostly useless task, such as switching itself off, performing no other practical function. In its modern form, the useless machine appears to have been invented by AI pioneer Marvin Minsky at Bell Labs in the 1950s, which he named the “ultimate machine” (Minsky also invented a “gravity machine” that would ring a bell if the gravitational constant were to change, a theoretical possibility that is not expected to occur in the foreseeable future). The device has also been called the “Leave Me Alone Box“.

Minsky’s mentor at Bell Labs, information theory pioneer Claude Shannon, made his own versions of the machine (similar to this one). He kept one on his desk, where science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke saw it, later writing:

There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off.


(see also: the Trammel of Archimedes a.k.a. the “do-nothing grinder”)

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2012: A Space Odyssey

What if 2001: A Space Odyssey was set for release in 2012?

It would clearly be a nightmare to market, not fitting into any of the big audience demographics. But what if it was turned into a bone-crunching, non-stop science fiction explosion of action fit for blockbuster season, with plenty of smash cuts and drum’n’bass…?

(HT Film School Rejects)

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