Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely regarded as one of the most influential films ever made. Themes of existentialism and artificial intelligence were reinforced by scientifically accurate depictions of space flight and cutting-edge pre-CGI special effects. In one of the movie’s most memorable and prescient sequences, the working relationship between pseudo-sentient mission computer HAL 9000 and astronaut Dave unravels.
At the time, this was one of the most riveting sequences in the film. HAL had already killed one astronaut, and it looked like Dave would be next. In hindsight, HAL’s motive was simple. His programmers taught him that the mission was the most important thing and the humans were expendable. Artificial Intelligence aside, it all started with the most basic of all program control statements, IF-THEN-ELSE. Fast-forward 47 years, and our technology has closed the gap with Kubrick’s imagination – in more ways than one.
Take cars, for example. A relatively long novel might have 30,000 lines; by comparison, there can be several million lines of code in an automobile computer. The potential for harm from software errors is great, and growing. Since there are far too many possible combinations of events to predict, other complex programs known as debuggers are used to test and correct the main program. One popular way of coping with this runaway complexity is with a coding paradigm known in the trade as an Object-Oriented Programming System (reassuringly referred to as OOPS).