2001: A Space Odyssey

Movie released: 1968 | Set in: 2001

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Alien contact very low at any time
HAL-level artificial intelligence medium 2025+
Large orbital base high 2040+
Large moon base high 2040+
Manned mission to Jupiter high 2040+
Hibernation for long space flight medium 2030+

Approach to the future

Scenario exploration


Futurism: 7

Entertainment: 7
Visually stunning, seminal, and inscrutable. The special effects are still awesome, decades after the movie was made.

Plausibility: 7
Setting aside the question of the existence of aliens, this movie is attentive to plausibility.

Interesting depictions

Space travel:

This is space as it should be: silent, immense and difficult. In place of rocketing around, people must contend with the realities of vast distances.

  • Because leaving Earth is difficult and expensive, and because manned exploration came to a halt after the Moon landings, much of what is depicted will not happen for decades.
  • A sleek orbital space plane like the one that carries people to the space station is not really under development, and so is unlikely to appear until the 2020s or later.
  • A large orbital wheel-shaped station is unlikely for decades. The International Space Station now being built is small and rickety by comparison, and more ambitious projects may have to await either cheap ways to get into orbit, or the use of the Moon as a source of construction materials.
  • The vast lunar base will not be in place for decades. A human presence on the Moon might resume around the 2030s, driven by the need for lunar materials, use of the Moon as an observatory location, and even tourism, but won’t achieve the scale depicted until mid to late in the century.
  • A manned mission to Jupiter will be much harder than one to Mars, and a Mars mission has now been pushed back until the 2030s or so.

Hibernation would require advanced drugs or other methods to keep people healthy for extended periods in such a state. It might be considered for Mars missions but is more likely for more difficult trips to Jupiter and Saturn.

Other technologies/topics depicted

Artificial intelligence:

HAL 9000, the spaceship’s computer, speaks of himself as a “conscious entity.” But it is difficult to discern whether he is sentient, or just an excellent simulation of self-awareness.

He is certainly highly sophisticated. He can form plans about the future and act on them—that seems to be why he starts killing people. And he can extract meaning from extremely weak signals—witness his successful lip reading.

All that could be achieved with enough processing power and complex programming. HAL notes that Dave Bowman is upset, but that does not mean that he understands emotion. HAL only needs to be able to detect how humans display anger, fear, or other states, and respond with the appropriate program.

HAL’s ability to speak naturally may be the best clue to sentience. Computers can generate the sounds of words, but HAL gets the tones and cadences right, which requires comprehension and common sense.

See: A note on artificial intelligence.

Alien contact:

Aliens buried the monolith on the Moon four million years ago, knowing that Earthlings would not find it until they had achieved basic space flight.

This reflects the likelihood that aliens who make it to Earth will be far more advanced than humans. They may have spent millions of years longer as sentient beings than we have.

So their bewildering technology and behavior may be a reasonable depiction of alien contact.

See: A note on aliens.

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The futures depicted in the movies