Monday, February 14, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last night Barry and I watched The Forbin Project, a 1970 science fiction movie about a colossal defense computer (unimaginatively named Colossus) that becomes self-aware.  The movie has a few interesting twists, but for the most part the plot could be predicted by anyone who ever read Frankenstein or saw 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I think this film is probably most noted as containing the break-through role for Eric Braeden, the German-born actor who went on to TV fame as Victor Newman in The Young and the Restless; here he plays Dr. Charles Forbin, the creator of Colossus.

The section of the movie that is the verbal equivalent of ominous music in the background is Braeden's early speech about the potential of Colossus to solve the problems that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time.  Colossus will be able to do this, he maintains, because the computer is incredibly fast, incredibly powerful, and (dum, dum, dum) able to learn on its own.

OK, so tonight we're watching the PBS News Hour, and they're showing a clip of correspondent Miles O'Brien challenging Watson, the new Jeopardy-playing supercomputer.  The story included a speech by an IBM representative about Watson's ability to learn and adapt based on experience, and how computers like this will be able to help solve the problems that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time.

Dum, dum, dum...

Miles O'Brien included a meant-to-be humorous reference to 2001 in his report.  It wasn't as funny to me as it would have been before last night.  The Forbin Project is scarier in retrospect than I originally thought.

I will definitely be watching the full one-hour show about Watson scheduled for Wednesday on Nova.

"I am a machine vastly superior to humans." ~Colossus, The Forbin Project

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