Wednesday, August 24, 2011

But Does HAL Have an Intel Inside?

Thought it was high time I start contributing to this thing again!

What brought me out this time: Local high-tech jurisprudence. Good ol' Apple, that beloved corporate juggernaut, is trying to block sales of Android-powered Samsung tablet computers in some countries, claiming copyright infringement against the iPad. Same old story, really-- but Samsung's lawyers have sprung back with a remarkable defense. They pointed out that Apple itself swiped an idea over 40 years old. There were devices nearly identical to iPads in use in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Quoting Samsung's filing:
Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. As with the design claimed by the D’889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor.
I did not notice this until now-- and it's amazing how right they got it-- all the way back in 1968! (the image here is an amusingly photoshopped deal I found online: in the film, the pads are made by IBM.) I'll bet if you can get a hold of some tech-savvy kid and make him or her watch 2001 (at 143 minutes, a tall order), and ask them what Bowman and Poole are watching BBC 12 on, they would be more interested in what brand of tablet they were using to do so.

Kubrick hired a lot of scientists, futurists and engineers to design the look and feel of his film. No doubt one of these guys (and back then, it had to be a guy) thought the future of TV would look like a clipboard with a video screen. They didn't totally nail future technology, though: The often-seen square-format computer displays in the film are more akin to data readouts, rather than GUIs (graphical user interfaces). In one scene an astronaut is seen scribbling data down on a yellow legal pad, and HAL dispenses hard data on a punchcard (this scene got some scattered laughter at the last screening I attended). And though today's solid-state SATA swappable hard drives bear a striking resemblance to HAL's logic core modules, I'm afraid nobody has yet figured out how to make them transparent.

Steve Jobs is just a few years older than me, and grew up in Mountain View, California. He was 13 years old when 2001 came out-- and it's even quite likely he saw it at the Century 21 on Winchester, same as I did. It likely made just as deep an impression on him as it did me, though I have to admit his inspiration was quite a bit more profitable than mine.

ADDENDA: About three hours after posting this, Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple. No need to take this blog personally, Stevie...