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How a movie from 1968 predicted the future accurately: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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The world of science is more mature now than it was 50 years back. We have seen a lot of new developments that comprehensively explain mysterious phenomena. However, if it wasn’t for this 1968 science fiction film, the realm of sci-fi would have been saturated. Undoubtedly one of THE best sci-fi films, “2001: A Space Odyssey” made some chilling predictions. Directed by the legendary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick, the film is based on the concept of existentialism, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial beings. Needless to say, the movie wouldn’t have been this accurate if it wasn’t for Kubrick’s science advisors.

Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky was one among the many scientists who helped Kubrick to shape the plot of this iconic film. In the 1960s, Marvin Minsky was considered to be one of the finest researchers in the field of Artificial intelligence. As a mathematician, he successfully studied the analogy of computations done by the human brain and artificial intelligence. In 1969, he received the Turing Award, the highest honour in the field of Computer science.

His work on this film is prevalent as there are a lot of excerpts in the movie wherein many AI applications were rightly depicted. HAL 9000, one of the fictional characters from the film, is the brainchild of Minsky. In the film, HAL or, Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer, controls the spacecraft, hence it has a dominant role in the film.

Propagation of sound in outer space

With a strong panel of scientists, Kubrick was determined to have a high degree of scientific accuracy for this film. Along with Arthur C Clarke, he made sure that even the tiny bits in the film would be portrayed accurately. The best for this would be the sound effects. While the “Star Wars” defied the laws of physics, “2001: A Space Odyssey” obeyed them. Space being a vacuum was rightly depicted in the film. Although this may not be a prediction per se, it was more of a wake-up call for many filmmakers to abide by the rules of physics.

Spacecraft

Space travel was not studied properly in the 1960s. In fact, the first low-level orbiting space station didn’t launch until 1971. But when scientists saw the 1968 films, they were pleasantly surprised. Not because of its depiction of space travel but because of how the film envisioned the design of the spacecraft. Needless to say, the plane-shaped spacecraft design is similar to NASA’s shuttle fleet. Though this design is rarely used now, the 20th-century space relied on this design. As of now, we have moved to a pod-shaped craft design.

The future of In-flight TV entertainment

Jumping to the list of accurate predictions, In-flight TV entertainment is the one that comes first to my mind. In the 1960s commercial flights were screening films. However, there is one scene in the film wherein In-flight TV entertainment was portrayed differently. Different from the cinema hall approach, the film’s Pan Am space plane had a TV set in front of each seat. It wasn’t until 1988 when this system was used in commercial airliners when Northwest Airlines ran trials.

Cameras

With the plot depicting the existence of alien monoliths, it was important for the filmmakers to show the discovery of alien monolith accurately. In the sense, it would be the part that most people would revisit. Turns out, people were more concerned with the kind of camera shown in the movie as opposed to the monolith. When the protagonists finally find the monolith, they all pose in front of it like package tourists. To sum up, the camera used by the protagonist resembles the very same camera that was used in real-life space missions.

Video-conferencing

Video-conferencing was non-existent back in the 1960s. In fact, the telecom sector banked landline telephones as the most cutting edge technology. However, “2001: A Space Odyssey” ascertained video-conferencing to be the future. A picture-phone with Bell Labs branding ensured that video calls could be made from a space station. Although there are rumours of Nazi Germany using videoconferencing in 1936, making a video call from space station was still sparse in 1968.

Voice recognition

HAL, the sentient computer depicted in the film had a lot of features. This included lip-syncing and voice recognition, probably two of the most revolutionary technologies predicted in the film. Above all, HAL is capable of reading the lips of the speaker. The system can also eavesdrop on astronauts’ conversation. Even though the natural language conversations that the astronauts have with the astronauts is a bit far-fetched it’s something that computer scientists are working on.

Robotic limbs

NASA used robotic limbs for their space missions in the 1980s. However, “2001: A Space Odyssey” aptly shows the use of robotic limbs in outer space missions. In addition to that, it was the film that depicted the difficulty of space repairs. Apparently these robotic limbs were in control of an evil computer in the movie, hence portraying them negatively.

Portable computers: Tablets

Tablets weren’t a thing until the late 1990s or early 2000s. However, Kubrick-Clarke brilliance predicted the growth of Tablets. In addition to that, in Clarke’s novel, he calls this portable computer “Newspad”.

“…he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth” Clarke explains in his novel. “One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad….”

IBM, being one of the tech advisers of this film, the tablet shown in the film is branded after them.

Modular memory

Modular memory drastically changed the face of computing. Although it came late, the 1968 film had predicted its arrival. In one of the iconic scenes of the film, HAL is deactivated by removing memory circuits. These memory circuits are similar to what we see in modern computing architecture. Even though it was not similar to RAM sticks, the operational capability of the modular memory circuits depicted in the film was the same. Hence it is safe to assume Kubrick and Clarke predicted this cutting edge technology.

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