Burriss: Life doesn't imitate art


It's been said life imitates art and art for art's sake. And that was all well and good until . . . well . . . until computers came along and began to blur the line between technology, personhood and art.

This past week I've been at a conference in Las Vegas studying the intersection of popular culture, technology and real life. And one piece of popular culture kept coming up time and time again, after nearly 50 years, and that is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It all seemed so easy and predictable 50 years ago: travel to the moon via a regularly scheduled Pan Am space ship, space stations with Hilton hotels and Howard Johnson's, and manned missions to Jupiter.

Unfortunately, in the harsh glow of reality, all of that is still a long way off. But a lot of the movie predictions have come true: space stations, video phones and notebook-sized computers in particular. What makes these technologies even more remarkable is that, although we saw them in 1968, they had been predicted by writer Arthur Clarke in a short story he had written some 20 years earlier.

Even the super-computer HAL has become something of a reality, and we see intense debates about the supposed "humanity" of computers: do they really think? Will computers someday have a conscience, or be conscious?

If you look closely at the film, you'll see that the computer HAL has all of the emotion and affect, while the two humans seem almost devoid of feelings. And today many people are concerned about social isolation as we become more and more dependent on computers.

It's fun to look back at the old science fiction movies and television programs and compare the predictions with the reality of today.

But as I look back on "Space Odyssey," one thought keeps coming to mind: just what was that last scene all about, anyway?