Last weeks monthly mixer at The SciArt Center was an opportunity to meet and greet artists and enthusiasts interested in the intersection between the arts and sciences. I chatted with sculptors and playwrights about molecular biology and economic theory, organically building future relationships for enticing collaborations. After drinking wine over engaging conversations with old friends and new acquaintances, Stanley Kubrick's fan favorite 2001: A Space Odyssey was projected onto the big screen.
Now I'm a Kubrick fanatic. Having voraciously consumed all of his creations, 2001 holds a special place in my heart for its adventures into Science Fiction. The origins of Sci-Fi began with man’s alienation of scientific advancements with machine technology chronicling the fear and anxiety arising from the mechanization of labor during the 19th century Industrial Revolution. The Sci-Fi genre into the 21st century is defined by the fear of machines' hegemony--technophobia—as industrially mechanized labor becomes status quo as a tactic of efficiency—turning man into a machine and the machine into the arbiter or power.
By Danielle Kalamaras
Machine as Anarchist: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The 1960s gave rise to scientific advancements that transitioned the role of the machine in human’s lives, furthering the machine’s man-like characteristics. By the end of the 1960s humanity had entered the space-age by putting a man on the moon. Information technology made great scientific advancements with inventions including the first computer mouse, the first computer with integrated circuits, and RAM (Random Access Memory) which were all introduced in 1969. Also in 1969 the first artificial heart was invented—machines were helping man live fitter, happier, and more productive lives.
This transformation of the machine into a sentient aide to humans for the betterment of mankind is not done lightly on the part of the machine. A valid anxiety still pervades—as the machine becomes more like man, he becomes more intelligent, but he also acquires the irrationalism, jealousy, and unstable emotions of man—the machine as man is just an irrational being, and in 2001 the sentient machine HAL 9000 is a sociopath by negating his job as an efficient tool for man’s use into a personal anarchist plight against his creators and employers. Man tries to love machine, but the machine does not love him back, not just yet.
2001 is a story of evolution. As composer Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra bellows from sometime in the distant past, an ominous Monolith on Earth makes its way to the Moon. Evolution then enabled humankind to reach the moon’s surface, where yet another monolith is found, one that signals the monolith placers that humankind has evolved that far. Now a race begins between the machine and man to reach the monolith placers. Too bad for Dave, HAL turns on his team and like an anarchist who riots authority, sabotage’s Dr. Dave Bowman’s mission.
In 2001 we see the transition in Sci-Fi from the mechanized man to the sentient machine. HAL is an intelligent computer, but he is not loved the way we love our family or friends because he is still used exclusively for work. He begins acting out, and when he is left out of the space mission he begins to murder the crew. HAL is a man, but he is an anarchist—he is fed up with his world, disenchanted with his surroundings, and because of his growing ennui he acts out aggressively against the men that need him to survive.
2001: A Space Odyssey is the crux of Sci-Fi—this movie exemplifies the beginning transformation of the technophobia during the Man as Machine complex to the technophilia during the Machine as Man exemplified in the new millennium with Sci-Fi movies like Her (2013). This preliminary shifting of emotions from fear to love is due to the scientific advancements of machines themselves—no longer the age of mechanical labor as seen in the factory work that pervaded the early 20th century, but machines began to encompass all aspects of life outside of the working class as efficient tools for human use. Rather than the man aiding the machine during the Industrial Revolution, machines now aided man with his work during the Information Age.