Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey Technology and Modernization

By Arthur C. Clarke

Technology and Modernization

Part 1, Chapter 2

They could never guess that their minds were being probed, their bodies mapped, their reactions studied, their potentials evaluated. (2.18)

The man-apes are being evaluated by the aliens…or rather by alien technologies. So robots are checking and then manipulating people. The man-apes (our ancestors, supposedly) are actually quasi-alien cyborgs.

Part 3, Chapter 16

Poole and Bowman had often humorously referred to themselves as caretakers or janitors aboard a ship that could really run itself. They would have been astonished, and more than a little indignant, to discover how much truth that jest contained. (16.17)

Here's a hint of technophobia. One concern about technology, in Clarke's time and still today, is that it will end up destroying jobs, or making certain jobs irrelevant. That's what's happened here; Poole and Bowman have been made irrelevant. The man-apes have been replaced by their bone-saws.

Part 4, Chapter 22

Space pods were not the most elegant means of transport devised by man, but they were absolutely essential for construction and maintenance work in vacuum. (22.2)

The novel is careful to tell you how necessary and cool various bits of tech are. Three cheers for the imaginary space-pod! We couldn't get out of the imaginary ship without it.

Part 4, Chapter 23

They both knew, of course, that Hal was hearing every word, but they could not help these polite circumlocutions. Hal was their colleague, and they did not wish to embarrass him. (23.27)

Hal wavers somewhere between tool and person. He's a technology, but he's also a buddy. Humans built the brain, but the brain is still a brain—just as the aliens built human brains, but those brains are still people.

Part 4, Chapter 26

It was beyond all reason that Hal, who had performed flawlessly for so long, should suddenly turn assassin. (26.12)

Think of how you feel when your car breaks down, or the washer goes on the fritz, or the internet stops working. It's a betrayal; the technology has zapped you. How much more so if the technology were an evil supercomputer? You'd be surprised and disbelieving too.

Part 4, Chapter 27

He was only aware of the conflict that was slowly destroying his integrity—the conflict between truth, and concealment of truth. (27.7)

This is presented as some sort of programming glitch or conflict—but in practice it seems much more like the sort of thing that would upset a human person type brain. It's a moral conflict—and really the only moral conflict in the whole novel. The result is that moral conflicts are presented in technological terms; morality is a glitch in the system.

Part 4, Chapter 30
Heywood Floyd

"…primitive races have often failed to survive the encounter with higher civilizations. Anthropologists talk of 'cultural shock': we may have to prepare the entire human race for such a shock." (30.210)

These days, anthropologists try to avoid talking about "primitive races" or "higher civilizations". Cultures with stone-age technology aren't necessarily backwards, nor are they fossil relics. In some ways some of those cultures might be seen as more advanced than highly technological ones (in terms of equitable distribution of goods, for example, or in terms of richness of interpersonal relations). This speech about "primitive races" is supposed to sound scientific and rational and modern, but it actually sounds kind of prejudiced and out of date. That's the danger with science-fiction; your future is always at risk of looking quaint and old-fashioned.

Part 6, Chapter 47

The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him, but he preferred a cleaner sky. (47.2)

Space-baby Bowman uses his future technology to blast the evil nuclear weapons, saving earth from the bad technology. Nuclear weapons are one of the few technologies in the novel that are clearly marked as ominous or bad. But, predictably, the solution to them isn't less technology, or better relations with people, but more futuristic alien power. The answer to problematic progress is more progress.

The tools they had been programmed to use were simple enough, yet they could change this world and make the man-apes its masters. (4.1)

A technology fiddles with the man-apes and gets them to use different technologies. Modernization is technology through and through.

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