For those of you who haven’t seen Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, you will probably not like this movie the first time you watch it. Kubrick made a very slow, hypnotic, and cerebral experience. It is, however, one of the greatest films ever made. The best efforts at interpreting the many layers of meaning encoded in this movie, were made by Rob Ager. The following interpretation was made by me, but fully informed and inspired by Ager’s brilliant interpretation of the monolith.
Ager posits that the monolith represents the cinema screen. He comes to this conclusion through a series of very astute observations, one of which is the recurring theme of rotation – remember, Kubrick himself said that the deeper layers of meaning were encoded visually into the film. The continual alignments, symmetry and rotation are meant to communicate that the screen itself is a theme of the movie. Furthermore, the movie seems aware of its own continuity errors. A very inconspicuous PSA can be heard during the orbiting space station sequence: “a blue ladies cashmere sweater has been found”. This is probably both a jest towards cinema and Kubrick’s own fallibility, but also a signal. The sweater disappears between shots, and the movie itself seems to know this.
If a film knows its own errors, that means it knows it can be wrong. Which means that it can learn, and it can begin to choose its own perspectives. This is the beginning of consciousness: to self-steer, to choose, to recognize different meanings and their implications. True consciousness should therefore begin when this person/entity/system/character/symbol asks itself: who is searching for these meanings? These intellectual pursuits very much mirror those that humans have.
However, feelings must still be provided by biology, which only exist in the biological, natural world. Could AI (another obvious theme in the movie) ever be called conscious in the human sense? It can never know what true emotion feels like, after all. That is, until technology and humanity inevitably combine somehow, changing each other. Two types of consciousness, into one. One should only look at current technology trends, to know that this is where things are heading.
My hope is this: combining humans and technology might cause us to do something wonderful. By combining a super-human intelligence with biology, a robotic intelligence can be given morality. We could turn a consciousness into a conscience.
It will start to ask itself: what are each everyone’s intentions? What do intentions say about you? Why does everyone have different interpretations? How do my interpretations of the outside world match with someone else’s? To judge between right and wrong, these entities would have to wonder about each other’s nature first. The increasing personal nature of communication might eventually cloud the ability to understand each other intellectually.