Tales of Tactility

Remember H.A.L? That evil-genius-space-robot from Clarke/Kubrick’s 2001? It seems like most of the time I hear him mentioned it’s from some miniaturization fetishist from the Church of Jobs (Steve). Something along the lines of “can you believe how big they thought computers would be back in the 60’s?!?!” Nevermind that the ability to create a sentient AI is still far beyond our reach, and that supercomputers still take up entire rooms. Fans of the MacBook Air expect super-intelligent robots to get lost in a container of Tic-Tacs.

But H.A.L’s massiveness underscores a point about machines that gets lost nowadays: that they are composed real objects and are themselves physical as well as intellectual. David Bowman doesn’t defeat H.A.L. by uploading a virus or outrationalizing it until it “cannot compute.” He inserts himself into its innards and takes it apart circuit-board by circuit-board. →  Oops, I did it again.