An article written by Arthur C Clarke for Forbes last December.
Looking back on the appalling 21st century from our vantage point, 500 years later, it sometimes seems incredible that the human race could have survived such a time of troubles. The moment of greatest danger can now be pinpointed precisely–the year 2010.Fifty years earlier, the chief threat seemed to be from thermonuclear weapons; however, these could be manufactured only by wealthy nations possessing both vast financial resources and a high level of technology.Then, suddenly and totally unexpectedly, the situation was transformed by the invention of the Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb. The origin of this terrifying device is unknown: Like most concepts whose time has come, it was probably invented independently in a number of places. However, the first public account appeared in the September 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics under this dramatic headline:
E-BOMB: In the blink of an eye, electromagnetic bombs could throw civilization back 200 years. And terrorists can build them for $400.
The heart of the E-bomb is an incredibly simple device–little more than a copper coil packed with explosives. When detonated, they generate a magnetic pulse more powerful than a lightning bolt that disables electronic systems–and one that can be accurately directed toward any target.
The article thoughtfully supplied full details in a diagram that would enable almost any experimenter to build a primitive but effective E-bomb. Needless to say, this is exactly what happened.
The first, and fortunately last, E-bomb was built by a previously unknown group of Asian terrorists and was taken into New York Harbor on board a small freighter. To cause the greatest possible confusion, it was detonated at midnight.
Instantly, all electrical equipment was immobilized–not only lighting systems but all telecommunications and computers. All radio and TV stations went off the air, and the resulting lack of information increased the chaos. Yet the only immediate deaths were a few hundred people unlucky enough to be wearing cardiac pacemakers.
Perhaps they were the lucky ones, because during the next few days no food was available or could be distributed. There was not even any drinking water, as the pumping systems had been immobilized. Hundreds of deaths by thirst and starvation occurred before rescue operations could be mounted from the surrounding areas.
Yet, once again, New York demonstrated its claim to greatness by recovering almost as quickly as it had done after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. It was helped by the cooperation of the United Nations, because every country realized that the entire world was at risk from such attacks.
The question then arose: What possible defense could there be against such a weapon? Although chief executives and other VIPs could be housed in grounded metal enclosures, this was hardly practical for entire populations.
Fortunately, technology–which had caused the problem–came to the rescue. With the development of reliable psychological probes, any suspected individual could now be painlessly and accurately interrogated, by being asked to answer a series of questions. Most of these would be innocuous, but some were obvious lies, which the subject would be asked to repeat in order to calibrate the “Psi-probe.”
The next step was a highly controversial one. Individuals were selected at random and interrogated painlessly, then rewarded for their cooperation. The difficulty here was determining the size of the sample needed in any given nation, to make sure that the overall result was accurate.
One outcome of this–the greatest psychological survey in the whole of history–was to demonstrate conclusively that the chief danger to civilization was not merely religious extremism but religions themselves. This was summed up in a famous saying: “All Religions were invented by the Devil to conceal God from Mankind.”
Billions of words of pious garbage spoken by statesmen, clerics and politicians down the ages were either hypocritical nonsense or, if sincere, the babbling of lunatics. The new insights enabled by the Psi-probe helped humans finally recognize organized religions as the most malevolent mind virus that had ever infected human minds.
Now that the Psi-probe allows us to link millions of minds together electronically, it has been suggested that something like a “supermind” might be attempted. There is a danger that this will erase the individuality of its components, and whether this is a good or a bad thing has been the subject of endless debate. There are those who think that such a merging would be a blessing–perhaps the only way to reach a true Utopia.
And even beyond that–perhaps the creation of a single super-entity might send a telepathic signal to the stars, announcing that Planet Earth is at last ready to join the Galactic Community.