Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy (belated) 25th Birthday, HAL!

From the blog of the MIT Press:
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H. A. L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992.” —Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Nearly a half-century ago, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick introduced us to cinema’s most compelling example of artificial intelligence: the HAL 9000, a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. The sentient HAL was not only capable of understanding his human colleagues—he could also speak, see, plan, understand emotion and play chess. Perhaps not surprisingly, HAL was shown to be the most human character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. While Frank Poole died silently in the cold vacuum of space and the demise of the hibernating crew members was revealed by a medical monitor’s trace going flat, by contrast HAL sang a touching yet dissolving rendition of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” as David Bowman deliberately shut down his consciousness.

Despite numerous attempts by other science fiction filmmakers, HAL remains the most compelling portrayal of machine intelligence in cinema. When as a young boy I first saw 2001 (in large-screen Cinerama), I was entranced. That experience, and my many dozens of subsequent viewings, helped lead me to a career in pattern recognition, machine learning, smart sensing, and other technologies that would make a real HAL. I even published a book, HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality and co-created and hosted a PBS documentary on HAL, 2001: HAL’s Legacy, to share my enthusiasm for the masterpiece film and its leading character. My California vanity license plate reads: HAL 9000. (Yes... perhaps I’ve gone a bit overboard).

Clarke and Kubrick strove to make HAL and the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) as realistic as possible. For the most part, the duo succeeded, with the film undoubtedly influencing the development of intelligent personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Nevertheless, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicts a fictional portrayal of the early 21st century, didn’t portray AI on laptops, tablets and smartphones for the masses. Indeed, HAL’s “brain room” or control center is enormous, although there are parallels with modern server farms (clouds) that serve as the backbone of the Internet and are used for increasingly “intelligent” functions....MORE
David G. Stork, Rambus fellow and editor of HAL's Legacy, celebrates the birthday of science fiction's most famous computer.
For more on why HAL was singing Daisy see 2014's Internet of Things: In Which Izabella Approaches Escape Velocity Edition.

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