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How accurate was Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" about the future?
September 28, 2009 12:37 PM   Subscribe

How accurate was Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" about the future? "Part of the reason that Dr Floyd has been sent to Clavius Base is to deliver a morale-boosting speech to a crew bemused by what they have unearthed on the moon. [...] Frankly, there is no way that this would have been done in the real 2001 without the judicious use of PowerPoint featuring Excel charts and inspiring pictures of puppies, and probably some free branded goodies to take away and cheer everybody up."
posted by feelinglistless (62 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Predicting the future?

Nobody really predicted cell phones, and the effect they'd have on our society. Floyd wouldn't go into a phone booth and call home, he'd have whipped out his aPhone and called his daughter. A couple of people guessed at portable comms, but they were used like landline phones or walkie-talkies. Nobody even guessed how much of a game changer they'd turn out to be.


Also, "Pan-Am" and "The Bell System." Whoops.
posted by eriko at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2009


Totally inaccurate. We can attempt as many landings on Europa as we want.


right?
posted by The Whelk at 12:49 PM on September 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


In the sequel, 2010, the Soviet Union still exists and Dr. Floyd's family has a pet dolphin.

While the former development rocks, I'm still waiting for Flipper.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the predictions in the book was the worldwide abolition of long-distance toll charges, which was supposed to inaugurate unprecedented levels of communication around the world. That didn't happen, but the Internet fills that role (for certain definitions of 'free').
posted by jquinby at 12:55 PM on September 28, 2009


The site's not loading for me. Google text-only cache of the page.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plus, like, when am I going to turn back into a universe fetus after spending my entire adult life in some frou-frou bedroom eating eggs?
posted by one_bean at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


The film in question featured a 21st century government employee running around in circles while his co-workers sleep and his computer system suffers progressively serious failures. Eventually he starts seeing stars and lays low in a nice hotel.

Nobody can relate to this truly fantastic story.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:05 PM on September 28, 2009 [34 favorites]


2001 had all of the elements of a good science-fiction movie: spaceships, monkeys, and a killer robot. But somehow it was really boring.

If Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer had directed it, it would have been a lot cooler.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:13 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I take it we're ignoring the fact that he predicted a fully functional moon base and the ability to send a manned flight to Jupiter by 2001. Also, no cryogenic sleep and no functional AI, so no HAL to kill the sleeping astronauts who would not be sleeping. He also showed ultra-slim tablet devices that we have only just begun seeing.

Most of 2001 is wrong, in the sense that it was at least a few decades too early for most of it's predictions. I think if you look at the advances in technology from 1940 to 1970 it's easy to see why they would expect 2001 to be a little more like the Jetsons. I think people looked at the progress made in manned spaceflight during the late 50s and early 60's and presumed it would simply continue. I think there was still some optimism around science and technology in the 60's that died in the 70's, when the realities of pollution and gas shortages started to hit home.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:13 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The site's not loading for me."

Yes, seems to have gone down. Sorry, HAL.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:13 PM on September 28, 2009


These "satellite" things of yours will never come to anything, Mr. Clarke.
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2009


Plane shaped spacecraft

An orbiting space station that is reached by using a shuttle craft that resembles an airplane design?


Well, yes.
posted by Artw at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2009


In the sequel, 2010, the Soviet Union still exists and Dr. Floyd's family has a pet dolphin.

Putin's still got a year to make this happen.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


I think one of the most glaring mistakes was the asumption that people and governments would mostly devote their time and energy to an ongoing scientifically-based exploration of reality, instead of violently bickering over who has the biggest and baddest sky daddy.
posted by newmoistness at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2009 [23 favorites]


Well, it was the 60s, anything seemed possible...
posted by Artw at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, no cryogenic sleep and no functional AI

Please open the pod bay door, MetaFilter.

Daisy, Daisy... I have no idea how those people got those cats wedged into their fax machines or why... But the senator, while insisting he was not intoxicated, could not explain his nudity...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


site didn't load for me either.

2001 was simply too optimistic, assuming that the forward-looking mood of the 60s would somehow continue. (what artw said)

Biggest question - why did it take 8 years to write the article?
posted by Artful Codger at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2009


site didn't load for me either.

See Google cache above.
posted by Artw at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2009


I was convinced that Arthur C. Clarke's prediction in "Childhood's End" (1953) that the children of the world would start connecting together in a hive mind was pure science fiction until I noticed these kids instant-messaging and twittering and using the interwebs and stuff.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I always notice how Dr. Floyd greets people with "How do you do," which I don't think I've heard anyone say non-whimsically in quite a while.
posted by gubo at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


2001 was 100% accurate: it just didn't take place in quite the same branch of the pan-cosmic multiverse that we inhabit.
posted by Phanx at 1:40 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


twoleftfeet: yes, but they're doing it without the soothing presence of devils in UFOs.
posted by Reverend John at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2009


Putin's still got a year to make this happen.


Putin....is going to arrange for us to have pet dolphins? Holy shit, the future is looking up.

Site not loading for me either, Google cache is nice and all but without the pics it's hard to see what the author is talking about.

On the general topic: it's always interesting what sf authors get right or wrong. Last PKD book I read was set in the late 80s and had flying cars and AI computers that acted as psychiatrists, but no mobile phones or internet-equivalent.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2009


In the sequel, 2010, the Soviet Union still exists and Dr. Floyd's family has a pet dolphin.

You know what bothered me about 2010? It's the year 2010, they've perfected artificial intelligent like HAL (well, not perfected but better than what we have yet today) yet they're still using computers green text based UIs. It's like they wanted to be modest in their vision of the future by assuming that 2010 would more or less be the same as the 1980s but with space travel and psychopathic AIs.
posted by champthom at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2009


The rule of thumb for science fiction and predictions is this--computers, displays and communications progress faster than thought by writers.

Weapons, propulsion and infrastructure way slower.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:48 PM on September 28, 2009 [18 favorites]


Green screen is retro.
posted by Artw at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2009


The article mentions voice recognition - but it doesn't mention voice synthesis. If there are any synthesized voices today as human sounding as Douglas Rain, I'm not aware of them.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2009


but they're doing it without the soothing presence of devils in UFOs.

Clarke even predicted Microsoft!

More Clarke predictions. This year, after a brief debate in the UN, all nuclear weapons are destroyed. Sweet!
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:00 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, that's nice, Joe. Sure, blame it on the Rain.

*rams pencils into ears*
posted by Skot at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2009


Star Trek came closer, what with predicting the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:43 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Eugenics Wars didn't start until 2009.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:00 PM on September 28, 2009


In the sequel, 2010, the Soviet Union still exists and Dr. Floyd's family has a pet dolphin.

And Helen Mirren is sexy. Oh wait, they got that one right.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:18 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The same site has The Buffy Guide to the Internet, a ludicrously in-depth analysis of computing and the internet as seen in a 1997 episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The article manages to be both funny ha-ha ("that's witty!") and funny peculiar ("what kind of person goes into this much detail?").
posted by metaBugs at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember watching Neil Armstrong step foot on the Moon....live! I was a wee child of almost-five at the time, and I was mesmerized by the lead-up to the landing. I had dreams filled with lunar imagery for weeks or months. And on the day they landed, there was such a powerful feeling of pride mixed with sheer astonishment that we as a species could achieve such a thing. That day changed me forever. I became enamored of math and science, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I was hoping that by the time I reached adulthood, there *would* be colonies on the moon where I could work and live.

Half a lifetime later and those dreams are mostly dead. Clarke (and me, and others) were far too optimistic about everything. What do the kids of today dream of? Fighting off cannibals while enduring global warming? I'm glad I was a kid in the 60s. At least I had my dreams, and they were good ones.
posted by jamstigator at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


I have both movies on blu-ray. It struck me on last viewing that in 2001 all video displays are flat-screens, thanks to some clever set design to hide the tubes and projectors. For 2010 there was less of a budget for sets, and so all the displays are back to being bulky CRTs. It somewhat makes sense to hand-wave it away by saying the Soviets in the movie were more rough-shod and doing things on a shoestring compared to the Americans.
posted by autodidact at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2009


I'll take any number of retro greenscreens over "Hey! It's a Unix System! 3d zoom!".

Modern SF seems to be all about holographic displays that float in mid air but that are still essentially green screen.
posted by Artw at 3:22 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


champthom, in 2010 it was made pretty explicit that nobody could explain why Hal had killed the crew (reacting Hal to find out was a primary mission goal) and the Soviets wanted to make damn sure the same thing didn't happen to them.

Something similar happens today when people buy a Mac after one blue screen too many.
posted by localroger at 3:25 PM on September 28, 2009


David Stork's book "HAL's Legacy" looked at most of these questions back in 1997. Stork got Arthur C Clarke to write a forward and then got a bunch of technology luminaries from various fields (Marvin Minsky, Daniel Dennet, Donald Norman, etc) to write a chapter saying how well the movie rated against the late 90s state of play. Well worth tracking down.
posted by rongorongo at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The one thing from 2001 that we do have is jogging strollers with bicycle wheels, and people who jog while pushing their obese children.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:39 PM on September 28, 2009


odd, floyd reaches the orbital station and the first person he sees is from station security and the snowball job to the Russians. peep speech on clavius.

ham sandwichs and coffee
posted by clavdivs at 3:40 PM on September 28, 2009


... goddammit, Putin, if you don't get me a dolphin by the end of next year I am going to be so mad...

Also, though, as someone in the subgeneration almost exactly between X and the Millennials, I have to say that our dreams aren't half bad[1], it's just they're more about the infinitesimally small than the infinitely big, and more about interconnection than exploration. Yeah, we're turning inward, but we're doing it with such style...

[1]: Well, yes, aside from the whole massive worldwide irreparable ecological disaster that will surely kill us all thing going on -- which to be honest was well on its way in the 60s, just fewer people had noticed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2009


I can totally ignore the plot in 2001 because the world just looks so darn awesome and beautiful. I love that cold, antiseptic, and clinical futuristic look. Seriously.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The observation that science fiction only occasionally predicts future events and developments in science and technology is not only trite, but beside the point. I first read Bernard Wolfe's criticism to this effect in Again, Dangerous Visions--that SF was useless because it hadn't predicted the realities of NASA, at least to Wolfe's liking--and even as a teenager I knew that that was bogus. People who can predict the future tend to become stockbrokers, investment bankers and venture capitalists (and even then, as recent events have shown, they don't get it right a lot of the time); science fiction writers are supposed to tune us into the possibilities of what might be (in the future or elsewhere in the universe/multiverse/omniverse) at that particular moment in time.

But that won't stop this guy from writing another article in 2029 about how today's skiffy epics (even those by MeFi's own jscalzi and cstross) didn't predict pandimensional sex squids.*

*I've just gotten Stross' Saturn's Children, haven't read it yet so don't spoil it for me if it does.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Space suit visors would NEVER be designed with sharp corners. In the real world, pressurized vessels are optimally spherical, or at least cylindrical. Sharp corners act to concentrate forces, which would tend to weaken the structure.
posted by Tube at 4:50 PM on September 28, 2009


I agree with Halloween Jack. The purpose of SF isn't to predict the future, and the purpose of 2001 wasn't, either.

"Part of the reason that Dr Floyd has been sent to Clavius Base is to deliver a morale-boosting speech to a crew bemused by what they have unearthed on the moon."

Argh. This person clearly doesn't understand the movie at all. Floyd is going to the Moon to take charge of a secret government investigation, to deflect all inquiries from the Russians and to browbeat his inferiors into doing what he says. He doesn't care about morale. (Though, to be fair, that would probably still involve Powerpoints in a real-world 2001.)
posted by jiawen at 5:17 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


...science fiction writers are supposed to tune us into the possibilities of what might be (in the future or elsewhere in the universe/multiverse/omniverse) at that particular moment in time.

Yeah, SF is about exploring alternatives, particularly but not exclusively scientific/technological, not "prediction".

That said, plenty of SF predicted mobile comm and mobile computers. The Mote in God's Eye (to pick a retro book I recently re-read) has something that sounds a lot of iPhones connecting to the internet.
posted by DU at 5:24 PM on September 28, 2009


To me the greatest thing about 2001 (and not 2010) is that forty years later it still looks like the future. Yea, we're no where near functional AI or Moon Bases or manned missions to Jupiter but most of what they put on there is still pretty plausible for some time in the future. I doubt that either Kubrick or Clarke really thought that we'd get that far by 2001, they just wanted to exploit the religious symbolism of the Millennium. Actually, I'm pretty sure that, other than in the titles, the date is never actually specified in the movie.
posted by octothorpe at 5:33 PM on September 28, 2009


Not to blow your mind or anything autodidact but they didn't have the tech when the film was made to even use cathode ray tubes to simulate flat screens.

The majority of video displays in 2001 have 16mm projectors behind them projecting hand animated simulations of computer graphics!

posted by jettloe at 5:41 PM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wait a minute! Are we done with 1984 already?
posted by sneebler at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll bet they never predicted that there'd be a Musical version of 2001...
posted by wendell at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2009


science fiction writers are supposed to tune us into the possibilities of what might be (in the future or elsewhere in the universe/multiverse/omniverse) at that particular moment in time.


Indeed, or comment on what is happening in their own society via metaphor or analogy.

But that won't stop this guy from writing another article in 2029 about how today's skiffy epics (even those by MeFi's own jscalzi and cstross) didn't predict pandimensional sex squids.*


I think you need Stephen Baxter's Manifold trilogy (tho' really that's just hyper-intelligent squid, no sex as far as I remember). Or, perhaps the shocking reality would be sufficient?
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:23 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nobody really predicted cell phones, and the effect they'd have on our society.

Dude, what was that thing Dick Tracy had on his wrist if not a cellphone?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:38 AM on September 29, 2009


Also, what was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, if not an iPhone?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:39 AM on September 29, 2009


I'm surprised the author left this out: HAL's voice (Daisy... Daaaaaaiiiissssyyyyy...) wouldn't have wound down analog-style (like a slowing down LP) while his memory circuits were being removed.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:24 AM on September 29, 2009


Of course, it was a nice effect, and one that everyone could relate to, as opposed to some sort of digital stutter, which no one had exactly heard yet...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:25 AM on September 29, 2009


Wait a minute! Are we done with 1984 already?

1984 is so 1999, although 1999 itself is still funky-fresh, and there's always 2525.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:38 AM on September 29, 2009


Clockwork Orange was much better at predicting the future.
posted by xjudson at 7:27 AM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


" HAL's voice (Daisy... Daaaaaaiiiissssyyyyy...) wouldn't have wound down analog-style (like a slowing down LP) while his memory circuits were being removed."

It's just symbolic of his "regression" to a child-like state. Who knows what he would come out with, we have no idea how his brain works. I find it very touching that he's afraid and Dave comforts him by asking him to sin the song. I wonder if they deliberately programmed him to be capable of feeling fear, or maybe that is just a prerequisite for having a human-like intelligence.
posted by snoktruix at 1:15 PM on September 29, 2009


Just to clarify, snoktruix, I was not referring to HAL's singing the particular song "Daisy". I was only referring to the quality of slowing down, in the way his voice did, which is generally more a result of analog technology, not digital. As far as "Daisy", the song, I'm with you 100%. I think it was brilliant that we heard HAL go back to what was one of the very first things he "learned" in his youth.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:38 PM on September 29, 2009


I was only referring to the quality of slowing down, in the way his voice did, which is generally more a result of analog technology, not digital.

See, Dave starts pulling memory out, causing HAL to hit the swap space really hard and eventually start thashing. Disk I/O being the bitch that it always is, even in the future. So you have the process table completely full, stuff dumping core all over the place, and...

What? Where's everybody going?
posted by jquinby at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


One of the predictions in the book was the worldwide abolition of long-distance toll charges, which was supposed to inaugurate unprecedented levels of communication around the world. That didn't happen

Not the entire world of course, but it's happened already in Asia. Calls from Singapore to the US, India, China and Australia are billed as local calls. 2001 was exactly what I had in mind when I put the phone down after speaking with my folks (in India) last Saturday for about 55 minutes at a stretch.

On the downside, though, I regularly get crank calls / telemarketers from China speaking in Chinese. You have to admire their tenacity at persisting in finishing their script in Chinese even when an Indian accent keeps interrupting them and tells them that they're wasting their time in English.
posted by the cydonian at 12:20 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apart from the book/short story being about much more than just a year, it wasn't a bad set of guesses. And the film was ok too. The sequels never grabbed me much though.

~Matt
posted by mdoar at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2009


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