Category Archives: 2001

Interesting Facts about Bell Labs and Odyssey from an Archivist at Bell Labs (My Dad)

So my father has worked at Bell Labs for over 20 years and runs their historical archives. As you may remember, Bell Labs was one of the companies that worked with producers of 2001: A Space Odyssey. to develop unique props for the film. My father was able to provide me with some interesting materials and facts regarding the company’s relationship with Kubrick and Odyssey.

Bell Labs was was responsible for the picture-phone unit that Dr. Floyd uses to call his daughter from space in the beginning of the movie. Arthur C. Clarke (author of The Sentinel) knew John Pierce, who was an engineer at Bell Labs most known for inventing the Telstar Satellite and his science fiction writing. Clarke worked with John Noll, another engineer at Bell Labs, to design the prototype of the unit. A couple mockup drawings are depicted below. Noll and Pierce had sent the drawings as well as a four-page memo of how the scene should be depicted to the producers of the film and never heard back from them. It was not until years later when they saw the film that they realized their designs and script had actually been used!


Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 6.02.09 PM


What is even more interesting, however, is that Noll almost got into trouble for submitting the Bell System seal to producers who then displayed the seal outside of the video-phone booth in the movie (shown below). AT&T accused Bell System of violating a consent decree, which outlined that the Bell System could only cover domestic telecommunication. By depicting the logo in a space station in the film, it was implied that the System worked in space, which violated the consent decree … crazy right? Fortunately, they were able to settle the dispute.


The picture-phone unit in the film was of course fabricated, but it was modeled off of technology that did exist at the time. I was able to snag a picture of the actual prototype of the first picture-phone, which my dad has in his office (shown below). If you look towards the upper left of the phone, you see a camera lens that closely resembles HAL, however this is only coincidental. To the right is a photo of one of the picture phone’s engineer’s, L.H. Meacham, using the phone to speak with its other engineer, A.D. Hall in 1964.




Furthermore, the song HAL sings “Daisy Bell” as he is dying, was synthesized by distinguished scientists Arthur Kelly and Carol Lochbaum at Bell Labs. Matt Mathews coded the accompaniment. Though computer-generated voice was being tested by other companies at the time, these two scientists’ work was considered the most advanced. Arthur C. Clarke actually came to Bell Labs to listen to the song. The sound bite below is the recording that Clarke heard at Bell Labs. It was coded on an IBM 7094 computer in 1961.


It is interesting how Odyssey depicted a precursor to modern technology. In one of the articles from 1993 that my Dad passed on to me, Research Vice President of AT&T, Arno Penzias, mentioned that it was important to realize that the actual technology in 2001 would most likely not be as “artistically interesting” as depicted in the film. He goes on to say that we will continue to experience the:

“celebration of a very interesting and productive connection between human beings and the information expertise that makes life better and more enriching.”

Penzias may have not foreseen the rapid advancement of technology that seemed to kick off around 2000, but he was definitely correct on the strengthening relationship between humans and machines. It is entertaining to look back at comments such as his when modern technology allows us to FaceTime with others at anytime, anywhere from the palm of our hands.



I obtained this information from my Dad who works at Bell Labs Archives, and also a Bell Labs news publications from April of 1993 that John Noll passed on to my Dad for me to refer to for this post.

HAL: The Original A.I. Killer

As I was watching the film 2001: A Space Odyssey in class, I experienced a range of emotions, though it was mainly confusion about the plot or shock from the occasional plot twist. Though I knew HAL was a little sketchy from the beginning, I will admit that my jaw literally dropped when he killed the three hibernating crew members while Dr. Bowman was out searching for Dr. Poole. Retrospectively, I realized that I should have seen this inevitable plot line coming, but I found the discord between Kubrick’s pro-science direction (i.e. asking for NASA’s help in creating the most accurate space world) and the screenplay’s uneasiness about artificial intelligence to be interesting. In today’s world, there is an ever growing dependence on technology, accompanied by a slight, uneasy feeling about whether the reliance on technology is causing a blur at the line between human and robot. Additionally, this film could be seen as one of the first to propose the paranoid idea that AI could evolve past our own human capabilities and render us, the human race, as submissive. Though Dr. David Bowman does conquer HAL in the end, this idea of the “killer AI” has been replicated in other films

  1. Skynet from the Terminator (1984)

Developed by the U.S. Military, Skynet develops self-awareness of it’s own abilities when it can infiltrate millions of computers across the world. Realizing its power, the creators try to shut down Skynet, but the program trumps their efforts and resolves to wipe out the entire human race in the name of self-preservation. Because of this, this AI system serves as the main antagonist of the Terminator series and basically begins an entire nuclear war against the humans that created it.

Terminator Skynet Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

2. The Machines from The Matrix (1999)

The Machines were created by humans to complete mundane tasks they did not want to do and for awhile, AI and humans lived in harmony, until a machine killed its owner and was destroyed. In retaliation, the machines revolted and nearly brought the human race to the brink of extinction. Best quote from this film? “Then man made the machine in his own likeness. Thus did man become the architect of his own demise.

Matrix Machines Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

3. Auto from Wall-E (2008)

This character will probably be most familiar to my fellow readers (at least, he was the most immediate example for me). In the film, Auto is a seemingly benevolent machine that aims to help the captain of the ship, even with basic tasks such as getting out of bed or brushing his teeth. However, when the captain suggests going back to earth, Auto immediately turns dark and reveals his true menacing nature. This character is most similar to HAL, using brute force and homicidal tactics to control his human co-pilot. Considering the filmmakers modeled Auto as homage to Hal and 2001, their similarities are not surprising.

Wall E AUTO Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

While HAL will always remain the alpha AI killer, it is interesting to see how a menacing idea presented in one science fiction film can transcend time and genre, still being present in modern films.


Kubrick’s take on civilization

I think there is a common theme through most of Kubrick’s filmography about the primal vs. the civilized. It’s pretty clear how this theme relates to 2001. Kubrick seems to say with many of his films that humans are just fundamentally animals, acting according to their primitive instincts. Civilization is something we use to hide our own animality, but underneath we are still animals.

We saw in class how Kubrick compares humans with their ape ancestors in 2001. When the apes first learn to use tools, their first actions are to assert dominance over others animals, and Kubrick establishes that tribal warfare is fundamental to humans. When he jump cuts to the future, nothing has changed about humans, only that we are less blatant about it. There is still the tribal warfare of the United States vs. Soviet Union. Technology has been weaponized, and space exploration is not a quest for knowledge but an exercise in one-upmanship. In the grand scheme of things, Kubrick in some ways characterizes humans as clueless as they were thousands of years ago with the parallel shots of the ape and Dr. Floyd curiously touching the monolith.

I also find HAL very interesting with respect to the themes of human’s primal instincts. In2001 the AI we create is not proof that we are some more advanced civilization because the AI takes on all of the dysfunctionality and flaws inherent in humans; it acts somewhat irrationally and has a survival instinct that forces it to act competitively like a human. It almost goes to say that anything a human creates, or anything completely contained within the human system, will still be primarily human. We cannot advance beyond our own species without external influence first. This is my reading of 2001 anyway since in the movie, humans really don’t advance until the higher dimensional beings put our advance into motion. Even if HAL was a perfect AI, he would not be able to function perfectly within human civilization since it is irrational in many ways. One theory I heard for why HAL acts up is because he receives conflicting orders: protect the mission, stay alive, keep the message about the moon secret, protect your crewmates. This theory is in some ways in line with some of the ideas I brought up.

Many of Kubrick’s other films have similar themes about civilization. Barry Lyndon seems to be on some level about dispelling any misconception that 18th century European nobility were of high class and very “civilized.” Like many of Kubrick’s characters, the actors in Barry Lyndon are very concerned with their own power and ego, and their upper class speech and etiquette functions ironically as it is totally dissonant with their carnal behavior. Eyes Wide Shut too looks at how society implores fidelity and monogamy to create the image of familial harmony while many of society’s members are torn on the inside by their animal instincts to break this mold.

Research and Impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey

After watching 2001: A Space Odyssey I was taken back by the incredible visual affects that were achieved without the use of CGI that is so prominent today.  The film essentially defined the space look that is now prevalent in films.  One of the reasons that 2001 was able to have this lasting legacy in science fiction film is due to the level of scientific research that went into creating the look of the film.  During the time that Kubrick was determining how to put his vision into reality, NASA scientists were working to put man on the moon.  This forced Kubrick to create technologies in the film that were far more advanced than that which NASA was using, in case NASA succeeded at their mission before the release of the film because this could cause Kubrick’s vision to appear outdated or simply just wrong.  Thus increasing the drive to make the technology in the film as advanced as possible through advanced research.


In order to achieve the necessary level of detail that Kubrick helped to achieve in his films, he recruited a team of astronomical artists, aerospace engineers, aeronautics specialists, and NASA employees.  Kubrick wanted to have the film based in fact and had filmed a prologue to the film, which was ultimately cut due to the long running time of the film, that contained about 20 scientists discussing space travel, evolution and aliens.  In order to build HAL, Kubrick contacted IBM to design the computer system.  IBM responded by saying that a computer with that degree would have to be a computer into which the astronauts went, instead of interacted with.  This did not settle well with Kubrick, for other companies at the time were striving to work within NASA’s need of smaller computer sizes.  In the end, Kubrick went with IBM’s design because he liked the idea of creating another character.

The space station from 2001 and the real International Space Station (

The space station from 2001 and the real International Space Station (

Thus, much research was done to make 2001: A Space Odyssey look as advanced as possible.  What I found most interesting in doing this research was a page on NASA’s website that expresses their support of the film and the innovations that were inspired by the film.  The space center from the film has a real-life counterpart now, though its appearance differs.  The use of computers in space crafts has become essential now as well as the in-space entertainment imagined in the film which now includes phones, DVDs, iPods, computers.  What I found most interesting was the similarity between the scene with the astronaut running in the space station, and that in 2007 astronaut Sunita Williams ran the Boston marathon while aboard the International Space Station.

Computer technology used in space currently

Computer technology used in space currently

Right: runner from the film Left: Sunita Williams running the Boston Marathon aboard the ISS (

Left: runner from the film
Right: Sunita Williams running the Boston Marathon aboard the ISS (


A Differing Perspective on Technology

One thing all of my friends know about me is that I am a huge Disney fan. Being Asian American I was especially drawn to Big Hero 6, so before the movie came out I tried to find out everything I could about the film’s creation. One thing that stood out to me was that the directors felt that, in the West, there is a general fear of technology and apprehension about what it might lead to. This contrasts very much with Japan, where technology is generally seen as good and helpful. This was one consideration the creators had when they were designing Baymax, who followed the Japanese model by being a healthcare provider and generally adorable robot (mostly).

I bring this up because 2001 really cemented this idea. HAL seems sentimental at times, but he murders several helpless people to protect himself. In other popular films like I, Robot; The Matrix and Terminator, robots or technology in general are also shown in a negative light. And yet in Japan (if you watch anime at all), robots like Astroboy and the mechas in Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion and similar shows are generally seen as heroic, helpful, and able to work together with humans.

What does this different in culture mean? I don’t know enough about the history to guess at why it may exist, but there are certainly effects of it we can see today. There is the (perhaps stereotypical) idea of Japan as being a technological leader in the world, and this may in fact stem from their positive association with technology (or robophilia, as my Japanese 121 professor would’ve called it). But the US is also a technological powerhouse and American people seem to be warming up more and more to the idea of robots and technological assistants (as suggested by applications like Siri and Cortana, newer films like Wall-E and Her, and robots increasingly appearing in warehouses and hospitals). It seems like the US’s perspective is shifting to be more like Japan’s, and we are entering a new era when technology will make more and more rapid advancements. I for one am pretty optimistic about what it might bring.

2001: A Familiar Odyssey

Whenever I talk with people about movies, they inevitably find out that I have never seen Star Wars. Not a single one of the movies. I can see the horror on your face now after reading that. But the honest truth is I’ve never seen them and I honestly don’t feel like I have to. Star Wars is one of those movies that is so ingrained into American culture and film that even by not seeing it, I could tell you the plot based on times when shows I enjoy have parodied it. To a lesser extent, the same could be said about Scarface. After watching this movie, I weirdly enough found out that 2001 is one of those movies that just being a fan of media makes it so that you know the plot.

We’re going to skip a bunch of the standard “that song is everywhere now” stuff and get to the nitty gritty. The weird stuff.

For instance, the first time during 2001 that most of us said “what the hell is going on” was when the big black monolith first appeared on screen with the apes in Africa. To me, not only did I not know what the hell was happening, but it also felt strangely familiar. You know where I’ve seen that scene before? The clearly inferior Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie with Johnny Depp. Not only does this scene show that scene and have the monolith turn into a chocolate bar (which is actually kind of funny now that I think about it) but they even have that exact music going the whole time. As if the reference wasn’t obvious enough.

Another one that sticks out in my mind is the Futurama episode Love and Rocket. If you’re not familiar with Futurama, it’s a show made by the same guy who made The Simpsons, but it ended when it should have. Anyway, I can’t link the whole episode, but the whole episode rips off the entirety of the section in the Discovery One.  The ship develops a personality, it becomes irrational and attempts to kill all of them. Even the scene when he’s taking apart HAL is exactly like it. The funniest part that I just now am realizing is that there’s a scene when they’re talking in private and the ship goes “Oh I wish I could read lips.”

To round out my review of the movie using other pop cultural references, I’ll just go to my favorite TV show of all time, Community. Of course they have a reference to this movie, and it’s the super confusing end scene. At least in this context, it’s confusing because Jeff was knocked out with monkey gas and was worried about turning old all episode. But, it does show the importance of that table in the show. There’s even the sound of monkeys in the background.

Now, I talked about these three references because they follow along with the plot of the movie, but I found so many more cool shoutouts. I’m sure that you guys remember some references to this movie now, because there are too many.


Also, there’s a new Flatbush Zombies record out called 3001: A Laced Odyssey. Would recommend for fans of underground hip hop