2001: How Much Did Kubrick Get Right?

What Was Predicted: An artificial intelligence could not only run all functions of an interplanetary craft, but also beat humans at chess, engage in conversations using voice synthesis, and sing. Oh yeah, it could also kill people.

Where We Stand Now: The HAL 9000 was ahead of its time (and ours) in terms of an independently thinking machine. Artificial intelligence has progressed in the research stage, at such places as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and vehicles in unmanned expeditions to other planets (like a Mars rover) are being developed with cognitive tools that may allow them to think about how to react to stimuli without waiting for instructions to be broadcast from Earth. But we’re still a ways off.

Lynn Andrea Stein, a professor of computer science at Massachussetts’ Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, points out that today’s computers can tackle all kinds of specialized tasks. But when it comes to complex human traits such as judgment and creativity, technology still can’t compute.

“Wonder, fear, free will … each of these is a very complicated phenomenon, and I think we’ll need to understand them much better before we can help the computer to have any of them (if we ever can),” she told ABCNEWS.com in an e-mail.

At least the filmmakers got the chess part right. In 1968 international chess master David Levy wagered that no computer could beat him in 10 years, and he won the bet in 1978 when he defeated the Chess 4.7 computer with three wins and one draw. But today, computers such as Deep Thought and Deep Blue have defeated grand masters in tournament play.

There are commonly available text-to-voice “reading” software applications. Also, a program by Myriad called Virtual Singer can mimic human voice, so the dulcet tones of HAL singing “Daisy” could not only be matched but likely improved.

In terms of murder? As much as we may want to kill our computers, fortunately there hasn’t been a case of the reverse.

Warner Bros., which owns the rights to 2001, is planning a theatrical re-release of the film in the fall of 2001.

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