Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Forbidden Planet

I just finished watching Forbidden Planet on TCM. It's an amazing movie. Made in 1956, it begins with a voice describing the advancement of humanity through the twenty-second century, and how, in the last decade of the twenty-first century, man reaches the moon. In reality, Apollo 11 would land on the Sea of Tranquility a mere 13 years later.

The film itself is about the dangers of god-like technology, and the writers, Irving Block and Allen Adler, obviously thought deeply about the subject. Though the slow pacing of the movie is typical of the 1950's, the themes in the film remain interesting today.

On the other hand, if we are to believe the movie, humans of the twenty-second century haven't changed a bit since the 1950's. Religion still plagues mankind in this future, and sexual equality never materializes.


In the story, we learn that, long ago, an alien civilization developed the technology to move matter and energy anywhere on their planet. Then, in a single mysterious night 200,000 years ago, the entire alien race disappeared.

Before their demise, the aliens had become increasingly intelligent, rational and refined. Eventually, the aliens deployed a new and awesomely-powerful machine that would do their bidding by thought alone. Simply by thinking a thing, it would happen.

But the aliens had forgotten their animal origins, and though their conscious minds had great clarity, their id remained as primitive as ever. Given access to the machine, their subconscious minds became deadly weapons.

It's really a very clever story. And a very relevant one. We are about to develop our own mind-reading technology. NASA has already done the basics.

NASA's experimental subvocal speech system converts nerve impulses of your throat into speech. Merely thinking the words "large fries" (mmmmm, large fries) causes subtle electrical signals to be sent to your speech muscles.

Personally, I sort of like the idea that I might one day be able to think and communicate faster because I won't have to move my muscles to talk. Think of it as analogous to speed reading in reverse. Of course, this assumes that I can think as fast as I can talk, which doesn't always seem to be the case.

Anyway, there are lots of other possible ways to interface humans with machines, and we'll need to be mindful of machine responses to our unreasonable subconscious demands. I'd be willing to bet that NASA's machine will pick up signals from a person who's merely dreaming.

Thanks to Robin for the NASA link.

1 comment:

Robin Zebrowski said...

Hah! I was watching Forbidden Planet at the same time! I adore 50s scifi :)