December 28, 2009
In the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, written as Stanley Kubrick was adapting it to a screenplay for his 1968 film, author Arthur C. Clarke philosophizes deeply on the convergence of man and machine. While the human astronauts Frank Poole and David Bowman affect an almost robot-like discipline and detachment during their long flight to Saturn, their HAL 9000 computer struggles through an array of human emotions that belie his monotone delivery: pride over his high level of engineering, guilt and remorse from his concealment of the mission’s true purpose from Poole and Bowman, vindictiveness in killing Poole and trying to kill Bowman, and, in the end, terror at being disconnected by Bowman.
Clarke also reflects on the advances made in replacing body parts with prostheses, which, at some future point, would lead humans to discard flesh and blood altogether. Clarke supposes that the extra-terrestrials who had visited Earth at the beginning of his book were well past this stage: “…out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and plastic. In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.”
For humans, Clarke wrote, “…eventually even the brain might go. As the seat of consciousness, it was not essential; the development of electronic intelligence had proved that. The conflict between mind and machine might be resolved at last…But was even this the end? A few mystically inclined biologists went still further. They speculated, taking their cues from the beliefs of many religions, that mind would eventually free itself from matter. The robot body, like the flesh and blood one, would be no more than a stepping-stone to something which, long ago, man had called ‘spirit.’ ”
We’re not there yet. But Clarke, who died in March 2008, would probably enjoy the following video.
Although, having freed himself (presumably) from matter, he may be working on a book about bigger questions…