2001 vs. 2014: Kubrick & Digital Tech
The dialectical push and pull between the allure of technological advance and the inherent implications and risks has challenged humanity since the advent of our existence as a species. As represented in the intro of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by the celebratory launch into the air of a bone cudgel tool by one of our primate ancestors, our drive toward irrevocable progress is a logical expression of our inbuilt curiosity, ingenuity, and desire to transcend our conditions via the newest means available to us.
Interestingly, Kubrick’s vision of from where these leaps emanate hinges on mysterious and ancient monoliths—matte black structures which represent the cosmic intelligence of the universe, appearing when needed to nudge forward evolution to a higher plane of being. It is, perhaps, an impossibility to determine what exactly lies behind these paradigm shifts: Is it a supernatural creator? A Nietzschean overabundance of human will and energy? Simply a series of happy coincidences and luck? How, for instance, can we account for the inspiration moving Tesla to perfect the alternating current? The scientific basis for the atomic bomb? Our contemporary fetishization of mobile devices, rapidly increasing internet speeds, and infinite cloud storage to house the details of our daily lives?
The specific predictive technologies of 2001 are shockingly ahead of their time. In 1968, with even personal home computing a distant dream, Kubrick and his collaborators envisioned a 21st century landscape which contained:
-A nearly identical version of the iPad
-Skype/FaceTime visual calling devices
-Lip Reading Computers (Currently in R&D, first introduced in 2009)
-Artificial Intelligence Rivalling that of Human Cognition
While undoubtedly presenting a dark view of human/computer interactive possibilities with the murderous psychopathy of HAL, 2001 does force the viewer to ponder the full ramifications which stem from our pursuit of ever more complex AI in robotics, drone military weaponry, and recreational gaming. Do we (or should we) trust ourselves to create potential new variants of “life” that are indeed entirely benign? How will we continue define the essence of experience, intelligence, and emotion in a world in which one can easily see the lines between human and machine beginning to become blurred? As has been pointed out by many critics, the parallels between 2001 and Frankenstein can be easily surmised—the dangers of human overreach creating a new manifestation of life which may lead them out of their depth into a God complex and possibly unforeseen consequences. In an age in which passing the Turin test seems increasingly feasible, these are certainly questions deserving of serious thought and reflection.
As we increasingly move forward from bone cudgels into wearable technology, the Internet of Things, and quantum computing, it seems our monoliths are still lurking somewhere in the background, driving our existential odyssey forward into a new era of rapid change and evolutionary possibility.