Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey Technology

Technology

A hominid looks toward the monolith. He grabs a bone from the tapir's skeleton. He lightly taps it once, twice. Then an idea dawns on him, and he smashes it down on the skull, crushing it. Images of tapirs falling to the new bone club are interspersed between this moment of triumphant invention.

We tend to think of technology as something that connects us to the Internet, runs computations for us, and tells us where to find the closest Shake Shack. That's because we live in the computer age. But technology is really any object or knowledge that allows us to accomplish an objective or make something. Here, the film dramatizes the origin of technology as the hominid turns an ordinary bone into a tool that increases the momentum of his swing, allowing him to easily Hulk-smash the skull where his bare hands could not.

The hominids return to the watering hole and, using the new club, make quick work of the other tribe that took control of the place.

Pretty soon, we see the dark side of technology—its ability to kill people. It's like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy. In that movie, primitive bushmen of the Kalahari, finding an empty Coke bottle thrown out the window of a plane (they think it's a mysterious gift from the gods), first use it to pound roots to cook, then quickly discover it's useful for bonking someone on the head.

After defeating his enemy, the hominid throws his weapon in the air in triumphant victory. The bone spins and spins, and a match cut transforms the bone into a satellite orbiting Earth.

This famous match cut shows a direct link between the bone club and the orbiting satellite, the old and the new tech. The satellite is a more sophisticated device, but they share a common function. It's the bone club v.8700543.

Dr. Heywood Floyd is asleep aboard a Pan-Am commercial space flight. In the zero-gravity cabin, his pen escapes his pocket and floats through space. A stewardess enters the cabin equipped with Velcro shoes and a cushioned hat to retrieve the pen and put it back in his pocket.

In prehistoric Africa, the hominids developed the bone club to help them solve problems. Mostly, they needed to kill things—tapirs for food, leopards for defense, and rivals for resources. The same holds true in space—absent the killing part. In order to meet the problems of space, like the zero-gravity environment, the stewardess is decked out in new tools to help her maneuver inside the cabin. Velcro—one of the greatest advances in human history.

SQUIRT: Are you coming to my party tomorrow?

FLOYD: I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I can't.

SQUIRT: Why not?

FLOYD: Well, you know, Daddy's traveling. Very sorry about it, but I just can't.

This is how Kubrick presents a vision of the wonderful tech-filled future. It's a fun bit of commentary about how commonplace technology can feel to us despite how amazing it really is—just another routine business trip for Dr. Floyd, no biggie.

HALVORSEN: Got any ham?

MICHAELS: Ham, ham, ham…

HALVORSEN: There, that's it.

FLOYD: They look pretty good.

MICHAELS: They're getting better at it all the time.

Remember how difficult it was for the hominids to get food? Food's also hard to come by in space, but thanks to our tools, we can develop ways to make ham that can be served on the moon. Well, a ham-like substance that resembles a sandwich in the same way Call of Duty resembles actual war. Again, our technology has helped us survive, thrive (well…), and explore.

HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amer. The 9000 Series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Can humanity invent a technology that's superior to itself? Can our technology outpace us in the evolutionary struggle? The science fiction genre has been toying with it for years, not to mention real geniuses like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

POOLE: I don't think we'd have any alternatives. There's not a single aspect of ship operations that isn't under his control. If he were proven to be malfunctioning, I don't see any choice but disconnection.

BOWMAN: I'm afraid I agree with you.

POOLE: There'd be nothing else to do.

BOWMAN: It'd be tricky.

POOLE: Yeah.

BOWMAN: We'd have to cut his higher brain functions without disturbing the purely automatic and regulatory systems. And we'd have to work out the transfer procedures of continuing the mission under ground-based computer control.

This exchange between Bowman and Poole shows just how reliant people are upon our tools. If HAL is malfunctioning and continues to run things, they're in trouble. If HAL is cut off from the ship's systems, things will be dicey for the rest of the trip. Either way, their dependence on technology is clear.

HAL: Dave. My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm…afraid.

In the survival of the fittest, humanity's come out on top this time. Which leads us to an interesting what-if question: What if HAL, not Bowman, had reached the Star Gate? Would our extraterrestrial mentors have taken it to the next stage of evolution? What on earth would that have looked like?

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