2001 (+22): A (virtual) Space Odyssey

In 1968, the hit “2001: A Space Odyssey” premiered in theaters, which became a science fiction classic directed by Stanley Kubrick.

The story begins with the discovery of a mysterious black monolith by a tribe of chimpanzees. It evolves into the journey of the crew of the spacecraft Discovery One on a mission to the planet Jupiter.

Aboard the spacecraft, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole rely on HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence (AI) developed as a computing system to support the vital functions of the Discovery One spacecraft. HAL 9000 is described as “perfectly logical” and “absolutely reliable.” However, during the mission, HAL exhibits anomalous and threatening behaviors, such as hiding information from the crew and disobeying orders. In addition, part of the work’s plot is fixed on the dispute over the control of the mission between HAL 9000 and the astronauts. For these and other reasons, the performance of the character HAL 9000 can be used as an analogy about current concerns with the rise of technology and its influence on human society.

Since Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm to be processed by a machine until the present day, we increasingly trust virtual assistants to fulfill our daily missions, whether complex or every day.

For example, in health, algorithms help doctors diagnose diseases based on images from diagnostic tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, or even predict the probability of a person developing a particular disease based on their medical history. As well as using AI-controlled robots to help surgeons perform complex procedures more accurately. Already, in the area of public security, AI can be used in the use of facial recognition technology to identify suspects of crimes in images of security videos, as well as in the monitoring of crowds through the use of intelligent cameras to detect suspicious behavior in crowds and send real-time alerts to the authorities and also when algorithms are used to analyze past crime data and identify patterns that can help predict and prevent future crimes (BRASIL, 2021; LIMA, 2015; STONE, 2016; 2021 ).

In everyday life, just as the characters in “2001: A Space Odyssey” relied on their virtual assistant HAL 9000, today you can rely on Siri – from Apple; Alexa – from Amazon; Google Assistant – from Google; Cortana – from Microsoft; Bixby – from Samsung; HUAWEI Assistant – from HUAWEI and others.

These all provide interactive and automated support for users to perform tasks or answer questions. These assistants are designed to simulate human interaction and often use artificial intelligence technologies such as speech recognition and natural language understanding to provide accurate and helpful answers. Virtual assistants can be accessed through smartphones, computers, smart speakers, and other devices.

Thus, little by little, gradually, in a “perfectly logical” and “absolutely reliable” way, we passively receive from our virtual assistants on our cell phones and other devices suggestions of what to eat, where to go, which way to go, how many steps to take per day, what music to listen to, what movie or series to watch, what book to read, what course to take, what professional career to follow, how to dress, how to behave, what news to watch.

The more we accept, consume, and enjoy the content offered by our virtual assistants, the more pleasant our informational world (in the form of a bubble) becomes. Likewise, the more difficult it will be to detect any anomalous and/or threatening attitudes, as the refinement provided by the capture of our behavior patterns by our virtual assistants is capable of anticipating our next step, choice, or destination.

It’s 2023, and the continuation of this odyssey in virtual space still holds an incalculable number of adventures. And, in the face of this informational universe to be navigated, have you ever asked yourself:

How many virtual assistants are aboard your version of the Discovery One spacecraft en route to your final destination?

Are you in control of your journey?

Are you assisted or controlled by the countless AI applications accompanying you daily?

Who will control the next act of their virtual space odyssey?

Bon voyage!


2001: Uma odisséia no espaço. (2001: A Space Odissey) Direção:  Stanley Kubrick, EUA, 1968. 148 min. Color

BRASIL, Estratégia Brasileira de Inteligência Artificial. Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovações Secretaria de Empreendedorismo e Inovação. Brasília. 2021.

LIMA, Richardson Bortolini; COSTA, Diego Marzo. Reconhecimento inteligente de eventos que fogem à normalidade social: uma reflexão sobre a utilização de softwares na identificação de pessoas e objetos na segurança pública. Revista Ordem Pública, v. 8, n. 1, p. 105-125, 2015.

STONE, Peter. et al. Artificial intelligence and life in 2030: the one hundred year study on artificial intelligence. 2016.

_________. Gathering Strength, Gathering Storms: The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100) 2021 Study Panel Report. Stanford, 2021.

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