HAL's Legacy:
2001's Computer as Dream and Reality

David G. Stork (editor)

The MIT Press 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997 http://dannyreviews.com/
I became operational... in Urbana, Illinois, on January 12 1997

You have to keep your tongue in cheek to write about the physics of Star Trek. In contrast, 2001 (and the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Hal is "born" in 1997) is not at all embarrassing as a starting point for a book about artificial intelligence. Clarke and Kubrick treated science with respect and made a serious effort to predict the future. Their failures when it comes to HAL and artificial intelligence reflect the predictive failures of the discipline more than their own errors.

In HAL's Legacy Stork has assembled an impressive list of contributors: Daniel Dennett on the moral and ethical status of artificial intelligences, Douglas Lenat on common sense, Raymond Kurzweil on speech recognition, and Murray Campbell on computer chess, to name just a few. Other chapters cover Moore's law and hardware improvement, fault tolerance, speech synthesis, language use, speechreading, vision, affective computing, and planning. Interviews with Marvin Minsky and Stephen Wolfram are broader, though many of the other contributors wander away from their topics to address philosophical issues. There are some fairly serious disagreements between the contributors, especially about the longer term prognosis for the discipline, but these don't dominate to the point where they leave the reader feeling baffled.

The contributors look both backwards — at the successes and failures of 2001 as a prediction of the future — and forwards — at what we are likely to have achieved by 2001 itself and at what the more distant future holds. But mostly they concentrate on the present — what has already been achieved and what is possible without revolutionary advances on current technology. The overall balance between speculation and hard fact works rather well.

The connections to HAL and 2001 are substantial and not just a source of throwaway glamour: many of the contributors clearly found the film personally inspiring. With a forward by Arthur C. Clarke himself and a good selection of full colour stills, Hal's Legacy will be a great pleasure for fans of 2001. But, whether you have seen the film or not, I recommend HAL's Legacy as a readable introduction to the realities of artificial intelligence.

January 1997

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%T HAL's Legacy
%S 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality
%E Stork, David G.
%I The MIT Press
%D 1997
%O hardcover, colour photographs, index
%G ISBN 0262193787
%P xxi,384pp