HAL 9000–fact or fiction?

HAL 9000–fact or fiction?

By Mike Lotz

HAL 9000–fact or fiction?

By Mike Lotz

Last month, as the clock ticked toward New Year’s Day, the media paid little attention to the vast differences between the 2001 envisioned in 1964 by Arthur C. Clarke and the 2001 of our current reality.

It wasn’t for lack of public awareness. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey is on virtually every critic’s list of the best movies ever made, and over the holiday, many retailers and e-tailers were sold out of the DVD and VHS versions.

Maybe the discussion was muted because most people assumed Clarke was just a crazy fiction writer who placed imagination far above reality. But Clarke’s fiction was reality-based. Long before he sat down and wrote the novel in 1964, he had proven himself a technologist who, among other things, had accurately predicted communication satellites decades before Sputnik’s launch.

Or maybe we were quiet because there’s so little to be celebrated in falling so short of our own expectations. Thanks to Kubrick, Clarke’s vision of 2001 had become ingrained in our culture as the bright tomorrow that never became today.

So where did Clarke go wrong? Where are the permanent moon bases? The giant wheel of a space station? Nuclear-powered spacecraft and cryogenic chambers for deep-space missions? And most of all, where’s the awesome artificial intelligence of HAL 9000 supercomputer from Urbana, Ill., who controlled all aspects of the mission to Saturn (Jupiter in the movie)?

In truth, most of these technologies were not a victim of lack of imagination or human potential–they fell to budget cuts and shifting military priorities. Just like everything else, money makes the world go around.

Just before the movie’s debut, Clarke said that because of the enormous cost of space exploration, achieving the technologies represented in the movie would largely depend on government spending. Yet, it is amazing how much was accomplished after the government stopped the Apollo project in the early 1970s. We have more processing power in today’s handheld computers than was onboard the entire Apollo mission.

Also, the Internet was a relatively insignificant military tool until it was opened to private enterprise. In six years, it has grown into a global nervous system that Clarke could never have imagined.

The fact is, the wealth of General Electric, General Motors, IBM and Microsoft combined couldn’t get a manned mission to Mars. A fraction of our projected national surplus could. This would help finance more exotic research in computer science and other fields than the private enterprise has the money or manpower to undertake.

We’ve come a long way in technology since Clarke wrote his novel, and I know that someday HAL will be reality, but I guess not this year.

If you have questions or comments, please contact me at questions@iwebwerks.com.

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