Stanley Kubrick made “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968. That means the actual year of 2001 was 33 years away. That must have seemed plenty long enough for head-spinning advances in space travel.
But by the time civilization actually reached 2001, we were just happy to have a reusable Space Shuttle…
That’s a far cry from a trip to Jupiter!
The creators of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick and Arthur Clark) should be forgiven for being overly optimistic about where we would be in 2001. After all, consider all the changes they had witnessed in the 33 years prior to 1968. That 33 years would have started in 1935. The transistor radio had not been invented in 1935. So just imagine the giant leaps these guys had seen.
So imagining the mission the astronauts were undertaking – bound for Jupiter, operated by a sentient computer HAL and with a stewardess serving food in gravity free chambers – as being quite feasible in 2001 was not crazy. All of the science fiction reality could seem a very reasonable extrapolation from the successful adventure of landing on the moon that would happen just the following year, in 1969.
Turns out the writers overshot in their vision of journeys to Jupiter. In the reality we lived in 2001, we had the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. Both incredibly remarkable achievements, but fell short of what was foretold in “2001”. In point of fact, we had not achieved a weightless stewardess in space, nor independent minded AI HALs and we were satisfied with a space station floating this side of the moon.
The face of HAL as he conversed with the astronauts in 2001.
There are two points to be made.
Point 1: Let HAL be a warning to us all as we contemplate autonomous cars. I can’t remember why he went off the rails, but suffice to say, no one was contemplating a universe of hackers back then.
Point 2: While many of us suspect the brave new world of autonomous cars to be “in gear” by 2021, we might be jumping the horse. It’s now 15 years after 2001. In 2016, we’re crowing about 800 hp muscle car throwbacks and for extraterrestrial travel, we’re still enduring cranky stewardesses on American Airlines. The state of California was given billions to build a bullet train… which seems to have taken a bullet.
The technology has plunged ahead without a doubt, and may in fact already have foolproof HAL computers ready to go. I believe that. But living in the real world, there are distractions. To get where we’re going faster (to the next landmark in transportation history), we are going to need to accelerate our societal and governmental change.
Summary Take Away: for the possible to become the probable, and the probable to become *buy it at Costco*… either we wade in the water or a disruptive wave comes along. Hey man, the universe has been pegged at 13.7 billion years old. Pull up a lawn chair.