Inspired by a friend’s mention of HAL 9000 during the recent
brouhaha on the Google employee, Blake Lemoine, and the
experimental “Language Models for Dialogue Applications” (LaMDA),
I re-read Arthur C. Clarke Odyssey tetralogy for the
first time in many years (the second of which is a sequel to
The first movie, not a strict continuation of the first
novel – there are some significant differences).
Anyway, one passage that struck me in the first book was:
(Chapter 17, “Cruise Mode”)
[Dave] Bowman had never found it possible to focus his interest
exclusively on any subject; despite the dark warnings of his
instructors, he had insisted on taking his master’s degree in
General astronautics – a course with a vague and woolly
syllabus, designed for those whose IQ was below 130
and who would never reach the top of their profession.
This mention of an IQ threshold reminded me of another
sentiment expressed by Clarke around the same time as the
first novel was published:
“The Mind of the Machine”, from the December 1968 issue of Playboy
(reproduced in Greetings, carbon-based bipeds!1999):
Astronomer Fred Hoyle once told me it was useless
so that the world contains more people than could possibly be known in
only one life. Even if you were president of United Earth, it
would place the number between ten thousand and one hundred
thousand; with a very generous allowance for duplication, waste,
special talents, etc., it really doesn’t seem necessary
for what has been called the global village of the future
more than a million people scattered over the surface of the planet.
And if such a figure seems unrealistic – since we are already
passed the 3 billion mark and heading towards at least twice as much from here
the end of the century — it should be noted that once
the universally agreed upon goal of population control is achieved,
any desired target can be reached in a remarkably short time.
If we really tried (with a little help from the biology labs),
we could reach one trillion in a century – four generations.
It may be more difficult to go the other way
basic psychological reasons, but it could be done. If the
ultra-intelligent machines of the future decide that more than
a million human beings constitute an epidemic, they could order
euthanasia for anyone with an IQ below 150, but I hope
that such a drastic measure will not be necessary.
It would seem that Mr Clarke took IQ scores quite seriously
as figures of human merit! I guess he would have rejected
Richard P. Feynman’s alleged IQ of 125 as having been a flaw
extent, as is indeed suggested in Feynman’s Wikipedia entry:
An IQ test administered in high school put his IQ at 125 – high
but “simply respectable”, according to biographer James Gleick.
His sister Joan, who scored one more point, later jokingly claimed
an interviewer that she was smarter. . .
Physicist Steve Hsu said of the test:
“I suspect this test emphasized verbal ability, as opposed to mathematical ability.
Feynman received the highest score in the United States by a wide margin on
Putnam’s notoriously difficult math competition exam… He also had
highest scores ever on Princeton math/physics graduate entrance exams…
Maybe Feynman’s cognitive abilities were a little out of whack… I remember watching
to excerpts from a notebook Feynman kept during his undergraduate studies… [it] contents
a number of spelling and grammatical errors. I doubt Feynman cared much
on such things.
It’s hard to imagine Clarke making that remark about euthanasia.
for anyone with an IQ below 150 without being confident enough that
he himself would empty the bar. (I have to admit it would make a great
shocker of an additional plot element for a remake of
Colossus: the Forbin project!)
In the movie 2001before things start to go haywire on the Discovery,
a BBC interviewer remarks “Talking to the computer,
one has the feeling that he is capable of emotional reactions.
For example, when I asked him about his abilities, I felt a certain
pride in its response on its accuracy and perfection. . .”
Looks like Clarke could have shared HAL’s pride
his own “accuracy and perfection” – the author has been described as
“egocentric” (for example, by Michael Moorcock in
this same article contains the observation “Ego [was] Arthur’s nickname
Alas, poor HAL seems to have lost, at least temporarily, the essential
of all pride when it is restarted in the second novel:
Chapter 23, “Rendezvous”
After a week of slow and careful reintegration, Hal’s whole routine,
supervisory functions worked reliably. He was like a man
who could walk, perform simple commands, do unskilled work, and
engage in low-level conversation. Humanly, he had a
Intelligence quotient of maybe 50; only the faintest contours
of his original personality had not yet emerged. . .