Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arthur C Clarke: Starting the Odyssey toward AI

Arthur C. Clarke, the novelist and screenwriter of my favorite science fiction film, turns 90 today, December 16th. In combination with Stanley Kubrick's amazing visual sense, Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey becomes a poetic future-dream envisioning artificial intelligence run amok in a space-bound journey to discover the nature of God and humanity.

For me, the film's most intriguing character by far is the HAL 9000 computer that malfunctions and nearly jeopardizes the mission to Jupiter, where a crew is being sent to solve the divine riddle of the monolithic black slab that has spurred human evolution across the ages.

Dave Bowman, the astronaut who earlier had befriended this AI caretaker, is forced to unplug HAL in order to continue the strange odyssey that ends with an intriguingly abstract contemplation on time and space.

Here is the very tense scene where HAL meets his maker. The computer's ruthless bent toward self-preservation, followed by denial, false contrition, bargaining and existential angst betrays a range of human emotions that rivals the spacemen it's his charge to keep alive. It's scary, sad and a very compelling piece of movie making culminating in HAL's haunting refrain as his mind slips away: "I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm afraid."

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