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Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most iconic science fiction films of all time. The 1968 movie is visually stunning and thought-provoking even if its last ten minutes are completely unintelligible. The film's art design is particularly memorable. It saw the constructed a thirty-eight-foot-diameter rotating set to make shots such as this possible and also predicted iPads thirty-two years before they were actually created.

And then there's the iconic glowing red eye of the film's HAL 9000 computer.

I watched a video the other day that described how the iconic glowing red eye of the computer was actually an off-the-shelf Nikon 8mm fish-eye lens (the lens isn't manufactured anymore but you can still occasionally find one on eBay). As someone who uses Nikon cameras myself, I couldn't help but feel unearned pride in the fact that a component of my brand of choice was used in the film. I also got a kick out of the fact that the filmmakers basically used a found object to create the one of the most memorable fictional computers.

Of course, computer "eyes" turned out to be not so cinematic. For example the camera on the iMac I am using to write this post is basically invisible. At less than a quarter of an inch in diameter it sits behind the glass bezel of my display. Rather than perceiving it as a nefarious entity watching my every move, I tend to forget my computer even has a camera (which maybe I shouldn't do).

If science fiction films tell us anything it is that technology tends to be much less architectural when it finally comes to exist. Computers, for example, are integrated into small everyday objects rather than existing as separate objects with glowing red eyes. As architects we still have to design around machines, of course. It's just that those machines are more mundane things like dishwashers and refrigerators rather than heuristically programmed algorithmic computers.

1968 iPad

Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey courtesy MGM

I'm by no means the the first one to point this out, but there is a scene on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey where two astronauts on a mission to Jupiter eat a meal while watching video on what look like iPads. Given the fact that the movie was released in 1968, the prediction of this technology is pretty amazing.

Of course, they didn't get everything right:

The flight to Jupiter portrayed in the movie occurs (as one might expect) in 2001. Apple didn't release the iPad until 2010. Although other tablets were released into the marketplace earlier, most of them were pretty bad

Of course, the more significant botched prediction is that a manned flight to Jupiter would occur in 2001. Thanks to Nixon's decision to defund NASA, that wouldn't even come close to happening.

If you look closely, the tablets in the movie are made by IBM, a company that in real life would abandon the manufacturing of PC hardware in 2004. Instead, the tablets of today were instead created by a company started in a garage by a bunch of hippies eight years after the movie was released.

Still, it's one of countless small details that contribute to this visually stunning film (despite the fact it's last 10 minutes remain completely incomprehensible).