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2001: A computer's legacy


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February 28, 1997
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Dick Wilson

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Nearly 30 years since the release of "200l: A Space Odyssey," some of the futuristic visions in the movie based on Arthur C. Clarke's science-fiction novel don't seem so far-out anymore.

Clarke also has written the forward to "HAL's Legacy," which is edited by David Stork. The book is named for the movie's HAL 9000 computer, which used its artificial intelligence to turn against astronauts on an ill-fated secret space mission.

movie icon (1.1 MB/30 sec. QuickTime movie)

"HAL had things like speech recognition, language understanding, common sense, reasoning," says Stork, a professor and computer researcher at Stanford University.

Since the movie's release in 1968, research into artificial intelligence hasn't progressed in the way Stork thought it would.


"The problems we thought were hard turned out to be easy. And the problems we thought were easy turned out to be hard," he told CNN.

"The simplest that a 3- or 4-year-old child can do -- understand language, recognize a dog from a cat -- are the ones we're having the greatest difficulty with."

Where HAL and reality meet

Stork says the computer world has met HAL's vision in a couple of important areas, including computer graphics and industrial production. "We have computers that can run factories and complicated airline reservation systems. The goal is not that hard."


Eventually, though, HAL's vision turns villainous. Two astronauts, confident they have taken steps to prevent HAL from hearing their conversation discuss whether to disconnect the computer.

But "HAL can tell what they're saying by lip-reading, technically called speech-reading," Stork says.

Eventually HAL becomes a killer and later is disconnected. "I can feel my mind going," the computer says in an urgent but serene-sounding plea to his remaining human handler.

Stork is such a fan of the film, he has the actual key used to open HAL's "brain room," where the computer is literally taken apart.

An expert in computer lip-reading


The professor is also proud to show off HAL's "face," the computer faceplate that, in the film, is represented by a glowing, vertically mounted red light encased in what appears to be a larger, thicker lens. The effect is of an ominous red pupil in a black iris.

In Stork's case, HAL's human legacy was inspiration.

"I partially went into science because of the film. I'm sure the first time I ever thought of a computer lip-reading was from that film. Now, I'm a world expert on computer lip-reading.


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