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Arthur C. Clarke Interview

Sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke talks about his work, UFOs, and his opinions about 'OMNI' in this vintage interview.

In 1945, a young English technical officer, who had spent World War II helping to develop radar systems for the Royal Air Force, published a remarkably prescient article in the British journal Wireless World. The article showed, in detail, how artificial satellites could be used to relay electronic communications around the world. The writer was Arthur C. Clarke.

Thus began the most remarkable marriage of far-flung imagination and realistic scientific fact in the history of English letters, for as much as anyone, Clarke was a founder of the Space Age. In his writings, both fiction and nonfiction, Clarke was the Space Age's prophet and one of its chief movers.

His books are world renowned, and his writing earned international awards. Less well known is the fact that he helped to push a doubting scientific community into serious consideration of spaceflight, back in the days when "shooting for the moon" was synonymous with attempting the impossible.

As chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, Clarke encouraged scientists and engineers to look at the real possibilities of space travel. His invention of the communications satellite was a natural outgrowth of his ceaseless search for the practical realities that would bring the dream of spaceflight into useful life.

In his science fiction stories and novels, he painted future scenarios in which space travel was an integral and irreplaceable part of human life in the very near future. In his nonfiction articles and books, he presented powerful arguments for exploring space—and the inner depths of Earth's oceans.

His nonfiction works include such classics as Interplanetary Flight, The Exploration of Space, Profiles of the Future, Voices from the Sky, and The Promise of Space. His science fiction novels are, if anything, even better-known around the world. Perhaps Clarke's most stunning contribution was his screenplay (with Stanley Kubrick) and novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When Clarke was interviewed by journalist-photographer Malcolm Kirk for this vintage interview with OMNI magazine, he was residing comfortably in Sri Lanka. He eventually passed away there in 2008, at the age of 90.

Photo via io9

Malcolm Kirk: I understand you have given up writing for good. About any subject whatsoever, or simply about science fiction?

Arthur C. Clarke: I won't even write a one-sentence blurb for the jackets of books for my best friends. I mean, I have to be absolutely firm, because once you've made exceptions, you know you can't stop. I've said all I want to say in both fiction and nonfiction, at least at this point. But that doesn't mean in five years or so I won't recharge my batteries and start writing again. I may get involved in controversy from time to time. In fact, in the local papers I'm having a controversy with some astrological people who think that the planets are going to be lined up at Christmas 1982 and all hell will break loose. And I had fun pointing out that this is utter nonsense, the planets aren't lined up in 82. So occasionally things like this will trigger me off, but I don't expect to do any writing.

In The View from Serendip I have put all my recent nonfiction essays, and particularly Sri Lanka articles, and sort of wrapped that all up. On the fiction side, I'm sure I'll never do anything as good as The Phantoms of Paradise [Harcourt Brace Jovanovich]. Everything came together in it—the locale, the theme. I got the biggest theme I've ever tackled: a serious, real theme which may involve the large-scale exploitation of space on a scale never dreamed of, even by people like Gerard O'Neill with his space colonies. And yet, this is real hard engineering. All sorts of things have come together—religion, philosophy—in this one book.

Also, I want to enjoy my declining years and have some time for skin diving. I've learned to play the piano, a secret ambition I've had all my life and never dreamed I'd have the chance of realizing. I've got a library of videotapes I'm building up.

On what subjects?

Mostly science. It started with a commercial I did for the Bell Telephone System when they made a two-hour version of The Man in the Iron Mask, a fine performance with Louis Jourdan, Ralph Richardson, and the star Richard Chamberlain, a very fine actor. Then the Bell System flew a team out here to film me in Sri Lanka, and they gave me a video system so I could see the result. So now I'm building up a library with a lot of science programs, and also, I’ve got a 16mm library that I'm building up.

Do you film or photograph much yourself?

We used to do quite a bit of filming. A partner of mine and I made a film called Beneath the Seas of Ceylon for the Ceylon tourist board. A 13-minute 16mm film. Then we did a two-hour Ceylonese epic that was a smash hit and is still one of the best films ever made on the local market—in color, original sound, original music, a really first-rate film. We reissued it after more than 10 years, and it is packing them in.

And the next thing I did was 2001.

Have you ever intended, after 2001, to get involved in anything else on a major scale like that?

No, because when one starts at the top like that, where do you go from there?

Was there at one point any talk of doing a film version of Childhood's End?

There's always talk of doing a film version of Childhood's End. I started the movie more than 20 years ago, and at the moment there's a cease-and-desist order out from my agent to Universal Studios, who claim they're making a TV version of it. I don't know what's going on. About five of my books have been sold to the movies.

Bob Guccione was very interested in working on some film with you, if you showed any interest at all. Do you think you would be interested or not?

Well, I've spread the word around that if anyone wants to film any of my books, I'm willing to talk to them for a few days, here in Sri Lanka, or on the telephone, if they call at a reasonable hour. And I'll even look at scripts, although I hate scripts; Movie scripts are terrible, they're meaningless, except to directors. But I'm quite willing to cooperate within limits. What I won't do is sit down at the typewriter for long periods of time when the sun is shining and the waves are sparkling at the reef.

But I'm willing to talk to anybody in general terms about projects and discuss things. I've got a stunning new opening for Childhood's End if anybody does want to film it. 

Are there any other kinds of projects that you might be interested in working on—underwater or anything like that?

On the underwater side, my partner, Hector Ekanayake, and his fiancé, Valerie Fuller, are taking divers out from all over the world. In fact, our most distinguished clients were the Apollo 12 team when they came back from the moon. We took them diving in Trincomalee. So I'm surrounded by diving activities, and I hope to spend some time underwater. I have a bungalow on the south coast of the island in the most beautiful bay you can imagine and a lovely reef outside it.

What brought you to Sri Lanka in the first place? For how long are you here, and what keeps you here?

Space brought me to Sri Lanka, I suppose, if you go back to the beginning. I became interested in underwater exploring and diving simply because I realized that it was the only way of reproducing the condition of weightlessness, which is characteristic of space flight. You aren't quite weightless, strictly speaking, underwater, but it's the nearest approximation you can get for any length of time. So that's why I learned diving.

How long ago was that?

This was in the late 40s. I went to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and on the way passed through Sri Lanka and went out by the old Himalaya one afternoon and met some local divers and... 

Excuse me, what's the Himalaya? Is that an Old P. and O. [Pacific and Orient] ship?

Yes; she's broken up now. And during the course of this I got more and more interested in the country met many friends and kept coming back and eventually settled down here. I just hate being anywhere else.

It seems an odd place to find a science fiction writer. One would imagine you to be in Cambridge or Palo Alto, London or New York, and instead you've chosen a sort of chaotic situation here.

I've been to all those places. I have friends in all. But because it is quiet here I have time to read all the material that's been sent me. I have at least 20 journals of various kinds and a vast correspondence, and everybody passes through Sri Lanka eventually. My friends come here. Bucky Fuller was here a few months ago, and we flew him around and showed him the locales of my new novel.

And there are also emotional, inner reasons for being here. It is a very nice way of living, as you can see. I finally got everything organized in this house, which I moved into four years ago. The only nightmare I've had is about leaving Sri Lanka.

Are you here all year at this point?

I haven't been out of the country for a year. I don't plan to go out for another year, and then it will only be for a brief visit to England. And if I never leave again, that's fine with me. I know, in fact, I shall be going. Something very important may come up that I can't possibly turn down. But I've said half-jokingly, or maybe quarter-jokingly that as much as I love America—and I have a great many friends there—the only thing that will get me back is when there's a seat in a space shuttle for me. I told the NASA administrator that.

How do you occupy yourself in a typical day here?

Oh, my goodness. I've often tried to answer this question, and I found there's no such thing as a typical day. But I get tea at 6:30 and hear the Voice of America news; then at 7:00 I have breakfast and hear the BBC. Then my day starts about 8:00. My working day starts about 8:00. I've always got about 20 books waiting to be read. I count that I have about 36 hours of reading for every 24 hours. The mail bombs me out. And then I try to get in at least an hour on the piano. I have anything up to 10 visitors a day.

What are they usually here to see you about?

Sometimes they just come for autographs. A lot of diving people, of course. I normally never leave the house at all, except at 4:00 in the afternoon, when I go to the local swimming club and play a vicious game of table tennis for a couple of hours. That's my only recreation. I am a table-tennis addict. I can still beat most of the amateurs there. Then I come back and may have a film show may listen to some music and get to bed quite early around 9:00. I never go to receptions, cocktail parties, dinners, simply because they're so time-consuming.

No more bashing away at the typewriter?

No, I haven't used a typewriter since January, I suppose. I'm thinking of taking the typewriter down to the reef and photographing it surrounded by fish. 

Photo via Flashbak

You're not active in the scuba diving or the school?

I haven't been active in that way for a long time. I became totally paralyzed in 1962 as a result of a spinal injury, and I was a basket case for many months. I'm lucky to be alive, let alone to be able to move around. And I never recovered my strength, so I've got to take things rather carefully. But I still enjoy snorkeling when I have a chance of doing it. I can still stay underwater for a minute by my own power if I have to. I used to be able to stay underwater for nearly four minutes, even though I didn't take up diving until I was nearly thirty.

Hyperventilating?

Yes, which is dangerous, a stupid thing to do.

Are you actively involved in any programs connected with the ocean?

Yes; I am fighting to save the reefs here. The coral reefs have been smashed up to make lime, and around the tourist centers you'll see hundreds of people smashing up the beautiful reefs, right beside the hotels. It's incredible. It's against the law, but there's such an economic pressure to do it that no one is able to stop it. I'm also trying to set up marine sanctuaries.

Do you see exciting developments in the future of oceanographic exploration, work with dolphins—things along those lines?

Well, I've always been fascinated by dolphins, and I have written a couple of books about them. Dolphin Island, I mentioned, is being filmed by Radnitz Productions. I've tried to get them to come here, although the story takes place on the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, the ocean is the other great frontier, as everybody says. I mean, this is a cliché now. The most important thing in the ocean at the moment is probably oil and deep-sea mining, which is now held up with the problem of getting international agreement. The other thing I'm interested in, which is rather speculative, is ocean thermal power. That's the use of the temperature differential in the tropical oceans, where it is always about 80 degrees [F] or more on the surface and 35 or so a mile down. I wrote "The Shining Ones" on this theme. It was set in Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka—there was a deep canyon coming right in close to land, so you had deep water very close to land, and this is an ideal place for it.

I wrote this story partly to alert people to the possibilities. I've done that several times, although as a rule I'm very much against writing fiction to teach people. According to Sam Goldwyn, "If you got a message, use Western Union." But that is one story that I did do for that purpose, to make people think of ocean thermal power. But the classic case is my story "I Remember Babylon." That was about the possibility of communication satellites, before there were any communication satellites. Although that story is, I hope, worth reading as a story, it was a deliberate attempt to say communication satellites are possible—they can make a big difference to your world.

Someone mentioned that you have the only TV set in Sri Lanka. Is that true? You can't receive any image, can you?

This video system here is, of course, closed, and when we do get TV here, which will be next year, it will be a different system anyway. But I did have in fact the only television receiver in the country two years ago and, as far as I know, the only privately owned Earth-satellite station in the world.

In 1976, the Indians had this very important experiment, broadcasting educational programs from a satellite loaned by NASA. It was called the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment. And to my delight and surprise, the Indian Space Research Organization flew in a complete ground station, set it up on my roof, and gave it to me so I could see the programs. For one year, had the only set on the island. And everybody, from the president down, came to see the television programs.

Is there going to be any follow-up on this? Have they stopped it altogether?

Well, the satellite was only on loan for one year, and now it's gone back and is doing much the same thing for the Eskimos and over the western United States. The Indians will have to follow on fairly quickly with their own satellite.

Do you think the current interest in science fiction is a passing fad? Or do you think it indicates a wider interest among the population at large in the near future?

There's always been a background of interest in science fiction. It's always been popular, whether it's been called science fiction or not. Right back to Verne and Wells and then to the modern era with the science fiction magazines. Almost any number of well-known writers have tried their hand at science fiction at some time or another, some with disastrous results, some with good results. H. Bruce Franklin wrote a book, Future Perfect, claiming that every major American writer had written some science fiction, and his anthology, which is an interesting one, tries to prove his point. The first robot language in English fiction was written by Herman Melville, for instance, something not generally realized. I'm afraid the pulp magazines tended to degrade science fiction in many ways and ghettoize it. And now it's becoming slowly recognized, and respected, and people are not turned off by it. Obviously judging by Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I haven't yet seen.

Photo via Known People

I was just going to ask you about that.

I am dying to see Close Encounters. I've seen Star Wars twice and thoroughly liked it, like everybody except a few tough-nosed characters. I think it's a marvelous film. At its level, I don't see how it could be improved. I do appreciate George Lucas saying that 2001 is better. Well, you can't really compare the two. It's like comparing steak-and-kidney pudding with strawberries and cream. Close Encounters I've not yet seen. Obviously this is a new phenomenon. There's a great deal of interest in the universe and great possibilities, and of course I'm very happy about this.

How do you think OMNI fits into this, by the way?

I was really very impressed. The contents were uniformly interesting. There was none or very little of the nonsense I'd rather feared. I mean, you can't keep the UFO people out. The treatment of that sort of thing in the fringe sections was very sensible. I felt in many ways that it was the sort of magazine I'd like to have designed for myself.

What else would you like to see in OMNI?

I would like to see a hard-nosed treatment of some of the cranks who are littering the scene and fringes of science. Some of my friends, like Martin Gardner and James Randi, are trying to put some sense into the public about Uri Geller, who I think is now more or less discredited. Although I like Uri. I think he's a real charmer. And the Bermuda Triangle, which is, of course, utter nonsense.

I think it would be a pity if there weren't some people like that around to liven up the world, but what does annoy me are the Von Dänikens and the ancient-astronaut people, because I do take this very seriously. Because of their activities, it's now almost impossible to get an important subject taken as seriously as it should be. I hope OMNI can do something about this. Of course, there's nothing you can do about the complete nuts, the religious maniacs who believe in flying saucers landing all the time. I mean, they're just mad, and that's all there is to it.

What are your feelings about things like telepathy and UFOs and faith healing?

Well, you've put a bunch of different things together. In general, I've always been interested in ESP and, of course, Childhood's End was about that. But I've grown disillusioned, partly because after all this time they're still arguing about whether these things happen. I suspect that telepathy does happen, partly because the evidence seems so overwhelming. On the other hand, you have to have a much higher level of evidence for this kind of thing than for anything else. Something strange is going on.

Obviously, we don't know all about the universe. As far as psychokinesis, metal bending, and that sort of thing... I've stood beside Geller when he bent my door key, and I think I know how he did it. People like Randi are quite sure they know how he did it.

How do you think he did it?

First of all, there's always chaos around Uri, and several things are happening at once. No one is quite sure what went on at any given time. You'd have to have three video cameras, X, Y, and Z, watching him. I've seen good conjurers do the same sort of thing that he does. And I've seen some conjurers do somethings that I still, to this day, don't know how they possibly could have done. Unless you're a professional conjurer, it's utterly useless for a layman to even comment on this. And it's amazing how few scientists seem to realize this.

You do have an open mind, to a certain extent?

It's getting less and less open. I suspect that telepathy occurs, and I suspect that some kind of precognition occurs, partly because I had some experience myself, but it's very hard to rule out coincidence.

We've talked on this trip to someone who said he's never suffered from headaches, and yet one particular morning he had the most splitting headache that he'd ever had in his life. Later that morning, he found out his son had died.

There are so many examples of this. Yet, it's hard to get a statistical correlation. You forget the misses and remember the hits. So how can one prove that even the hits are significant, because anything, no matter how fantastic, can happen by pure coincidence. And it's difficult to quantify this.

One person you might get on to is Professor Louis Alvares, the Nobel Laureate in physics at Berkeley. Louis is a man who invented ground-control-approach radar. Louis then assembled the first atomic bomb. Then he got the Nobel Prize for physics a few years ago, and he's perhaps one of the most distinguished American physicists. Well, he's tackled this problem of coincidences and the paranormal and has written a number of interesting letters to science about it.

What's your own opinion about UFOS?

When I'm asked this question, which I have been asked approximately 100,000 times, of course, I say when you've seen as many UFOs as I have, you won't believe in them. And this is not entirely a flip answer. I've seen maybe 10 now and every one of them would have convinced the layman.

Having been through the mill, I'm totally uninterested in UFOs now I'm as convinced as one can be that they're unimportant. But I can't be sure. I had an absolute beauty the other night in back of my house, one of the best I've ever seen. It turned out to be the local net balloon caught by the sunlight, and I was able to prove this by getting the position of the MET balloon. But in other cases, of course, one can never find out what it is one saw and so the mystery remains. The only UFOs I'm interested in now are ones where people see and approach an artifact and forget all about lights in the sky mystery-things. We should only be concerned with close encounters. Either they exist or they don't exist. Forget all the others and let's just concentrate on the reports of close encounters. They're the only ones that matter, if they do exist. If anyone reports that there's a Tyrannosaurus Rex loose in Central Park, I'd be skeptical. But I'm quite certain that we'd know for sure very shortly. The same with flying saucers. 

Then you're skeptical, but you don't dismiss them out of hand?

I take it for granted there's a tremendous amount of space traffic going on around the universe, and I'm quite sure that, when one vehicle arrives here, we'll know about it. That's why I can't believe it's been going on in recent times. I think it's more probable that in the remote past, maybe even historic times, there may have been visitors, but the universe is so huge, it's hard to believe that there can be all that amount of traffic in this local area.

Do you think that everything that's reported now has to be explicable in terms of current scientific understanding?

Obviously there's a vast amount that we don't know. In fact, I'm very fond of quoting Haldane's "The universe is not only queerer than we imagine; it's queerer than we can imagine."

Have you personally seen any unusual phenomena besides the experiences you've just recounted?

No, they all turn out to be sort of explicable in the long run, even though I'm sure that many of the astronomical and atmospherical phenomena I've seen would have fooled the average layman who didn't know what they were. I'm really fond of pointing out Venus in the daylight. Venus is shining up there at the moment, and I could show it to you if it were clearer. People don't realize you can see a bright star in the daytime. And they see Venus—it's easy to see, but once you've lost it, it's very hard to find it again, so they think it's sort of shot off at an enormous speed. That's such a big old example.

Looking back on it, how accurate do you think you were in Profiles of the Future and Prelude to Space?

Well, of course, Prelude to Space was written in 1948, and in detail it wasn't accurate. I had a horizontally launched, atomic-fueled spacecraft. But we're coming toward that sort of concept. The shuttle would look rather like my lunar spacecraft, even though the shuttle isn't atomically powered. I'm quite happy with my record as a whole, particularly with the communication satellite. Also, some of my other early ideas are now coming to the fore. The lunar-based electromagnetic launcher which Gerry O'Neill has made the basis of his scheme is one. He calls it the mass driver. This was worked out by me in 1950 or 51. It is the key to all these space colonization plans.

If you were to update either of those books, would there be any changes that you would make?

What I have done, in fact, is to write a new preface to Prelude to Space. I wouldn't dream of updating in the sense of changing the text of the book, any more than I'd dream of updating H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. They're period pieces and must be left untouched in their own time stream. But what I have done is to set them in a modern perspective by comparing the reality of the Apollo program with my ideas of almost 20 years before. Profiles of the Future, again, I've updated with a new preface and footnotes, pointing out where things have diverged. In fact, I wrote Profiles of the Future with an eye to the pretty long-distance future, because was fairly sure there'd be no major changes. And this has proved to be the case.

So the future doesn't appear to you any different now than it did at the time that you wrote those?

Not in general. Of course, a lot of things have turned out different. The biggest surprise of all was the speed at which we got to the moon. Second-biggest surprise was the speed at which we left the moon. No one would ever have dreamed that we'd have got to the moon by early 1969 and would have left it again by the early 70s, probably not be back again until the end of the century.

In Rendezvous with Rama, you described an elaborate space settlement. Do you think human beings are ready psychologically and socially for such a break with nature?

When you talk about a break with nature, I mean just look at New York City. A lot of people live there perfectly happily. My friend Isaac Asimov is a city boy. He won't travel at all. Certainly not by air. But people like Isaac seem perfectly happy totally out of their natural environment. Isaac's The Cage of Steel is a perfect example of this. The human being is incredibly adaptable. Look at Hong Kong.

Yes, but there's this need to listen to water or to expose your body to the sun or smells. Even in that kind of artificial environment, we still need to get back to nature, don't we? We can't break that link.

Yes. And I get the best of both worlds. In fact, I'm surrounded by trees, you see, and now some of these colonies they've been talking about are more back to nature than any of the cities. In fact, they're rather ridiculous. Parks transported into space... which is feasible, I'm sure, but I think we'll do it different ways.

What do you think of the possibility of placing our industry out in space and keeping Earth as a natural wilderness?

I think that perhaps many of the heavy industries and production systems may go to space, or suggest the planet Mercury where you have all the power you need from the sun and probably all the heavy metals as well. I don't want to mess up the moon. I want to preserve the lunar wilderness.

But you think that human beings can make that psychological break with Earth and live in those kinds of artificial environments?

I'm sure that human beings can go anywhere and do anything as long as they know what they're doing and perhaps have some means of relaxation—if they need it. But, incredibly, some people don't seem to need it.

What ideas do you have about trying to communicate with extraterrestrial civilizations? Do you think we're setting about it the right way?

Well, there isn't any other way we can do it at the moment except listen to the radio, and I'm appalled that Senator Proxmire has succeeded in destroying the first attempts to set up a listening system. He sort of got the SETI project thrown out of Congress, and in fact has even awarded it the Golden Fleece, which is his sarcastic term for the project which he thinks is least worthwhile. He doesn't seem to realize that with long-term imaginative projects you can never guarantee success. But unless you do have some of them, you'll never get anywhere. I'm sure Proxmire isn't such a fool as some of his statements suggest don't envy the congressmen who have the problem of selecting different budgets for different things, especially in view of the fiscal stringencies. You see what's happened today Jimmy Carter has put out all these projects for improving the economy and ending inflation, and the dollar drops to the lowest level ever.

How do you think we ought to communicate with possible civilizations out in space? I was reading an interesting little book called Lives of a Cell that suggested music be our form of communication. 

That was the idea in Close Encounters, wasn't it?

Photo via Keith Spangle

That's right.

I think that's wrong, because I don't think music is the form of communication. You don't know how difficult it is to make any sense of Eastern music for Western ears. So I think music may turn out to be a very restricted thing.

How would you do it, yourself?

By logic and mathematics, which must be universal.

What kind of information do you think we ought to send out?

Well, it's too late. We've sent out so much now that that's all been settled years ago. Unfortunately, think of all the super civilizations looking at I Love Lucy.

What sort of repercussions do you think there would be if we were to learn we are alone in the universe?

Well, we can never learn that, of course, because the universe is so enormous that if we go on for the next hundred million years exploring it and finding nobody, we can't be quite sure that over the next hill there isn't someone. I admit that after the next 100 million years or so it will look more and more like there's nobody there. Just as at the moment on Mars, even though we've only looked at two landing sites, we found no trace of anything, and so it seems probable that there's no life on Mars. But we can't be sure, by any means.

What do you see as the most interesting developments in the near future, technology oriented—social change?

Hmmm... I don't think anything unexpected. Well, obviously if it was unexpected I wouldn't be thinking of it. Usually it is the unexpected things which are the most important. But as far as one can see on the horizon at the moment: The coming computers and the communications revelations. Maybe home computers. Not only home computers, but the computer revolution. Microprocessors are getting into everything. We won't be able to pick up a single piece of equipment in the near future, except maybe a broom, that hasn't got a microprocessor in it.

How will they affect our lives, in a very general sense?

They'll take over much of the routine thought. Now what this is going to do to culture, to education, to art, is the big problem. A lot of people are very worried. Let's take a case that everybody knows about now—the hand calculator. No one's going to learn arithmetic, but does this mean they'll go on to learn more real mathematics? It could well be. Because one of the beauties of the hand calculator is that it encourages you to do all sorts of calculations that you would never dream of doing if you had to do them by pencil and paper, because they would be too tedious. It can act as a wonderful toy and interest children in mathematics. On the other hand it may produce a generation of-what's the equivalent of illiterates?—enumerates who can't add up a grocery bill. So you have these two possibilities. And that's why we have a real challenge.

I seem to remember Huxley saying in Brave New World that the most decisive changes in the future would be biological changes rather than technological ones. Do you agree with that or not?

I don't think biological changes in the sense of human biology. Obviously biology is going to be very important, and genetic engineering, too. That's already starting. It's going to have a revolutionary impact on society. Now they've got the first patent for a new organism issued by the patent office. That would have been incredible a few years ago. We can produce insuLin now from purely biological, microbiological methods, and if anyone can succeed in getting a nitrogen-fixing organism, that will remove one of the main fertilizer problems. The impact on the Third World will be enormous. All sorts of terrific possibilities. Also some negative ones. People are worried about this recombinant-DNA work. I think that fear is greatly exaggerated, though I'm not an expert in this area.

Are you gloomy or optimistic about the future in terms of the way we're going to utilize information that we're receiving? Do you think we're going too far too fast? Do you think it's time to pause?

No, we can never pause. You fall flat on your face if you do. I'm an optimist. We have a 51 percent chance of survival.

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