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Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 Newspad finally arrives, nine years late

One of my all-time favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. At several points during the film, we see ill-fated astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole using a flat, iPad-like device. In one of the posters for the movie, astronauts at a base on the Moon are seen using this device (see image at right).

Those who read Arthur C. Clarke's companion novel will remember that he described this device as the "Newspad," something that was used by people of the future (as envisioned in 1968) to watch TV and read newspapers. You can read the full description of the device after the break -- it's described as a newsreader, with two-digit codes for each article online, and a constant stream of information from the hourly updates on "electronic papers."

Of course, we don't have two-digit references to articles; we simply need to tap on them to bring them up. We do need to know the "codes" for the world's major electronic papers; we refer to them as URLs or specific apps. But like many things Clarke foresaw in his lifetime of writing science fiction, the Newspad has finally become reality in the form of Apple's iPad.

I think Arthur would be proud.

When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship's information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.

Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man's quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word "newspaper," of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.

It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg.

From 2001: A Space Odyssey , by Arthur C. Clarke.
Published by Del Rey in 1968

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