What 2001: A Space Odyssey Taught Us About Computers

Ask any movie buff and they would all agree that 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly one of the greatest movies ever made. On top of making HAL the first computer to become a famous personality, this 1968 epic science fiction film also foreshadowed a number of technological advancements and ethical dilemmas that modern society faces today. Needless to say, Stanley Kubrick is a visionary ahead of his time. He had carefully thought about every aspect of the film’s production, musical scoring and cinematography to envision life in the 2000’s, so much so that if you were to watch it today, you’d be surely stunned by how much of what was then called “science fiction” is now reality for many of us today.

In the film, HAL is the computer that controls the operations of the United States spacecraft Discovery One that is bound for Jupiter. It was built to control every aspect of the ship – from monitoring the electronic systems to adjusting an astronaut’s headrest.

While many would dismiss this as simply an exaggeration back in the day, there is a number of machine learning software that exist today that can gain human-like abilities from repetition and experience. Even if there are still no computers built yet that can fully mimic human intelligence and simulate human behavior, artificial intelligence techniques are widely used by innovative companies like Google and Amazon to decipher large data sets. In fact, in the field of gaming, there are already computer chess programs that can beat humans

Additionally, in the film, HAL has been portrayed as a supercomputer that it is “fool-proof and incapable of error.” While this is not likely to come to fruition anytime soon, there are many tasks that we rely on our computers for in order to avoid human error. In the field of medicine, computer-assisted surgery is starting to grow in popularity.

In the field of banking and finance, data analytics make use of computers to employ statistical modeling techniques and forecasting software to take away the manual nature of these activities. Yet, just even in our day-to-day lives, we no longer even bother to perform basic mathematical computations or spell correctly because our computers can easily do that for us in a split second.


But perhaps the most accurate foreshadowing done by Kubrick is depicted in the most chilling scene of the film where HAL replied, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”when he was asked to open the spacecraft doors for the returning astronaut. Even if we are still in full control of how we want our computers to serve us today, the truth is that most of us have become slaves to our computers, tablets, smartphones and mobile devices. If you own an iPhone, talking HAL is also no different from Siri helping you locate the best sushi place in town or telling you about tomorrow’s weather forecast.

If you haven’t done so yet, make sure to grab a copy of the film and watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You’ll be surprised at how Kubrick predicted much of the technology we take for granted today.

And even if artificial intelligence is still not as robust as our own intelligence to date, there is simply no reason to think it cannot.


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