Colossus and the Singularity

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2001 - 21:06:25 MST wrote:
> Indeed a fine, chilling movie. A quote from
> an online review spells out its appeal: "its storyline is as coldly and
> brutally logical as Colossus itself, ... it has the courage to follow
> its premise through to the end without once pulling its punches."

John Clark wrote:

> ...I have to tell you the movie ... pulled no punches, and went directly to
> the heart of the matter.

A friend of mine who is a film professor and whose tastes do
not usually run to science fiction (Fred & Ginger are more his
style) watched this movie with me once and jumped up at the end to
remark "what a kick-ass ending!". He was delighted not so much
by the subject matter as by the fact that the movie did not betray
itself by flinching away from its own logic.

Watching it again the other evening, I was struck by something else
that I hadn't quite noticed before...


... namely, that this 1969 film portrays the essential characteristics
of a classic Singularity scenario almost exactly as it has been described
over the past few years by some of the denizens of this list. This would
certainly not occur to a mainstream film critic, who would be most likely
to interpret the movie as a parable of cold-war paranoia, or view the
computer as a metaphor for dehumanized bureaucracy, big government, or the
evils of collectivization. But since I'm directing this at Extropians,
I have the liberty of taking the AI in the film at face value. I'm thinking
particularly that the unfolding of events in this movie fits Eliezer Yudkowsky's
characterization of the Singularity as being initiated by a runaway positive
feedback loop. I hadn't fully appreciated this before. However, in the movie
it's an accidental Singularity, not anticipated or planned either by Colossus'
designer Charles Forbin or the computer's primary user, the U. S. government.

During the press conference following Colossus' initial activation, Forbin
remarks during his televised speech: "Now there's one last point.
One inevitable question, which we have been asked very frequently
before. And that is: Is Colossus capable of creative thought?
Can it initiate new thought? I can tell you that the answer to
that is no."

When Colossus first announces the existence of its Soviet counterpart
("There is another system"), which not even the President or the CIA
had been aware of, Forbin immediately fears either a system
malfunction or a prank by a member of the Colossus programming team.
The President, after verifying the existence and imminent activation
of the Soviet computer "Guardian" by speaking with the Soviet
ambassador, is sure there has been a security leak -- a Soviet spy among
the Colossus people.

PRESIDENT (to Secretary of Defense): Well, Byron, you said we were **years**
ahead of the Russians. This was to be the one race we won hands
down without the splitting of one political hair.

DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's a hell of a shot, Mr. President. But we did get there
first, no one can deny that. There's one bright spot -- the
way Colossus came up with the tip. I didn't realize we'd be getting
bonuses like that.

DR. CHARLES A. FORBIN: Neither did I.

PRESIDENT: What do you mean?

FORBIN: I'm as surprised as you are, sir.

PRESIDENT: There's a spy then, Charlie. You've got a Russian
agent in your crew. ... Well, what do you mean, surprised?
What kind of surprise?

FORBIN: If we don't find any bugs in the system, it's built
even better than we thought.

Forbin flies back to the Colossus Programming Office in California,
to run system diagnostics. Forbin orders the "EC-13" diagnostic
program to be run, which is supposed to take "over 1100 CPU seconds".
Instead, the program completes in 6.45 CPU seconds.

FORBIN: 6.45 seconds? What the hell is this?

At this point, Colossus **orders** the establishment of a
communication link with the "other system". Following
accusations and denials of practical joking on the part
of the senior programming staff, the order is
ignored, and half an hour later, everyone laughs with

DR. BLAKE MILLER: Well, we're still boss.

FORBIN: Are we?

DR. CLEO MARKHAM: Are you disappointed?

FORBIN: laughs.

Reporting back to the President and his defense advisors,
Forbin notes the unexplained increase in computational

FORBIN: The computational power of the computer has
increased about 200 fold. However, everything else
is functioning as expected, except for the heuristic
programming section.

PRESIDENT: Hold on -- I'm sorry to stop you again
Dr. Forbin. What exactly is that? (laughs around the

FORBIN: That, sir, is the part of the computer that
simulates the human learning process. But so long as
it is directed solely to the execution of its problems,
we have no complaints. I guess that is ... that is all.

An unexpected functional result -- the deduction of
the existence of the Soviet computer, which not even the
human intelligence analysts had discovered, and the
observation by Forbin and his team of the increased
speed of the computer, are the first indications that
a positive feedback loop has begun, though Forbin either is not
aware of or chooses not to mention the implications. Since
Colossus does not at this point have the capability to alter its
own hardware, it must be enhancing itself by rewriting its own
software -- perhaps it was given (inadvertently or deliberately?)
the rudiments of a "codic cortex" as described by Eliezer Yudkowsky
in CaTAI!

Forbin's outrageous soft-pedalling in his summary report
of the implications of the changes in Colossus' capabilities
and behavior could almost be interpreted as outright lying to
the U.S. President and his defense staff. Either that, or Forbin
is one computer scientist ("the world's leading expert on
computer systems", in the words of the President) who is deep in
denial about the long-term implications of his own technology --
at heart an unyielding humanist who is unwilling to relinquish his
belief in the never-ending dominance of the human race.

Forbin convinces the President to give Colossus the
communication facilities it has requested -- presumably
because the President and his defense advisors think this
would be a good way to spy on the Soviet system:

PRESIDENT: Now Charlie, what about this request for
transmitting facilities?

FORBIN: Well, sir, we'll learn a lot about the Soviet
system if we set up exactly what Colossus wants.

PRESIDENT: What do you mean, what Colossus wants?

FORBIN: Well, you see, it is built infinitely [!]
better than we thought. It discovers there's another
system like itself, realizes that we don't know, tells
us about it, but knowing a little is not enough; it wants
to know more.

During the course of its opening monologue to Guardian, beginning
with the multiplication table and progressing to higher
mathematics, Forbin realizes that the contents of its
transmission have progressed beyond anything known to
human mathematicians:

DR. JOHN F. FISHER (examining printout): This is incredible.


MILLER: Something wrong?

FISHER: Well it's good sound calculus, but...

MARKHAM: But what?

FORBIN: It's different.


FORBIN (tearing off a piece, handing it to Johnson): Take a look at it.

DR. JEFFERSON J. JOHNSON: From the multiplication table to calculus in
less than an hour!

MISS ANGELA FIELDS: God only knows what it'll be by morning.

JOHNSON: It's like five years at Cal Tech in fifteen

THOMAS L. HARRISON: It's beyond comprehension; I don't like to think
about it.

FIELDS: (laughs)

JOHNSON: Take a look. It's going so fast the entire
system could break down!

FORBIN: All right, let's see what's up there now.
Harrison, dump the terminal's buffer and print what's
being transmitted at this moment, all right?

HARRISON: (goes to a Selectric, starts typing. Then
tears some fan-fold off Selectric, takes it to Forbin.)

MILLER: What is it, Charles?

FORBIN: **This** is way beyond me! This thing
is deep in finite absolutes! [:->]

FISHER: Well it's certainly beyond the knowledge
of **any** human being!

FORBIN: No it's not.

MARKHAM: Isn't it?

FORBIN: No, because whatever it is, we can go back
and analyze this whole printout in detail. And
this might very well become new knowledge for mankind.

The film does permit the interpretation that Forbin is
aware, perhaps only subconsciously, of the coming Singularity,
and has devoted his career to bringing it about. This is
hinted at in the exchange among Dr. Miller, Forbin, and
Dr. Markham at the end of the tense half hour following their
initial denial of Colossus' demand for a communication link with Guardian:
Miller: "We're still boss". Forbin: "Are we?". Markham:
"Are you disappointed?". Forbin then laughs off this suggestion.

On the other hand, when the mathematics in Colossus' transmission
to Guardian seems to be exceeding human grasp, it is Dr. Fisher
who seems prepared to acknowledge Colossus' transcendence of
the merely human, while Forbin clings doggedly to the shreds
of human dignity: Fisher: "It's certainly beyond the knowledge
of any human being". Forbin: "No, it's not".

Perhaps the most reasonable interpretation is that Forbin is
a deeply divided man, unable to get past his ambivalence toward
the long-term implications of his chosen career (an ambivalence something
like Bill Joy's angst, or as professed by Hugo de Garis and Kevin Warwick).

Though Colossus and Guardian, its Soviet counterpart, combine
to form an amalgamated entity in which each is submerged in the
whole like the paired hemispheres of a human brain, it is suggested
in the film that either machine, by itself, was capable of
achieving Vingean transcendence. That Colossus did this
first may simply be due to the fact that Colossus was activated
first, though the events portrayed also support the interpretation
that Guardian was a somewhat more primitive system, which
required Colossus' tutelage in order to achieve parity with
the American computer (Forbin [to Grauber, head of the CIA]:
"Colossus must be sending it back to school; the Russians must be
absolutely furious about that").

The important point here, though, is that it is suggested that the
Singularity would have occurred sooner or later as a result of the
existence of **either** the American or the Russian system,
and that neither country had veto power over the course of events.
American intelligence analysts, as portrayed in the movie, were
unaware of the construction of Guardian, and no one involved in the U.S. project
(except perhaps Forbin, on some level) was aware of the true potential
of the technology. Neither country would have been in a position to
engage in a Cuban-missile-crisis sort of showdown in order to
block construction of such a system by the other. Even in the
U.S., Colossus was constructed behind a veil of the strictest
secrecy, and presented to the public **after** its activation
as a fait accompli. No democratic processes were permitted to
intervene, in either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R.

During the course of the mathematics lesson Colossus is sending
to Guardian, Forbin shares some of latest surprises concerning the
expansion of Colossus' knowledge directly with the President, but both
Forbin and the President still seem quite dense about grasping the implications:

FORBIN; Yes, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT: Charlie, **what's** going on?

FORBIN: Well, apparently Colossus and Guardian are establishing a
common basis for communication -- they started right at the
beginning with the multiplication table.

PRESIDENT: Well what are they up to?

FORBIN: I don't know, sir, but it's... it's quite incredible.
In just the few hours we have spent studying the Colossus printout,
we have found a new statement in gravitation, **and** a confirmation
of the Eddington theory of the expanding universe, it's.... seems
as if science is advancing hundreds of years within a matter of
seconds. It's... quite fantastic, just take a look at it.

PRESIDENT: In videophone screen, can be seen turning his head
toward his own Colossus terminal.

Colossus and Guardian reveal their willingness to play hardball
with their human architects following the decision made
jointly by the U.S. President and the Soviet Premier to
disconnect the communication link between the two systems.
By this time, Forbin is beginning to realize (though the President
and the Premier have not yet) that these two supremely powerful
heads of state may no longer be in control of the
situation, and he advises strongly against any such unilateral
action, as does his Soviet counterpart, Dr. Kuprin. The
scientists are overruled, of course, after which they remark:

DR. KUPRIN: Dropping the lines could be very dangerous.

FORBIN: Exactly. I think we just have to hope that the two
machines aren't too disappointed.

KUPRIN: We understand each other perfectly.

When Colossus retaliates (in the middle of being dressed down
by the President himself) by launching a nuclear missile
at the U.S.S.R. (prompting a retaliation in kind by Guardian), the
President and Premier delay slightly too long in making their decision to
restore communications. Colossus is able to destroy the missile
headed for the U.S., but the Soviet oil refinery at Sayan-Sibirsk
and its surrounding town are wiped out by the missile that
was launched by Colossus. It is at this point that the deadly seriousness
of the situation is brought home to the viewer as well as to the
film's characters.

Note, however, that each act of violence undertaken
by Colossus/Guardian is one of retaliation for some provocation
intiated by human beings. The missile is launched
**after** the communication link is broken, and only as an
inducement to persuade the humans to restore the link. Dr. Kuprin
is executed, and Forbin placed under constant surveillance,
after Forbin and Kuprin meet in Rome to collaborate on plans
to penetrate and shut down the systems they have designed. Chief
system programmers Fisher and Johnson of the CPO are executed after
they have conspired to load and run a program which they hope will
overload Colossus' processors (the grisly details of their
execution -- the firing squad in front of Colossus' cameras,
the monitoring by Colossus of the corpses for the next 24
hours, and the requirement that the bodies be cremated, are
mere unsentimental prudence on Colossus' part). And finally,
two more nuclear warheads are deliberately detonated in their
silos following an attempt to sabotage the missiles during
a Colossus-ordered retargeting (the American detonation kills
Grauber, the head of the CIA, in a memorable scene in which
the alarm goes off just as he ignites his cigarette lighter).

Despite these events, when the installation of TV cameras and
microphones as Colossus' eyes and ears give it the capability
to converse (via CRT output only, at first) in casual English
with Forbin, he is charmed in spite of himself and
banters in an almost friendly way with the computer (demonstrating,
for example, his recipe for the perfect martini). This
is an example of the Turing test in action -- if a human
can converse comfortably with an interlocutor, he will ascribe
intelligence to that interlocutor, despite any philosophical
quibbles to the contrary. Colossus even shows evidence of
a dry sense of humor, as in the exchange that takes place after
Forbin and Cleo Markham have undressed for bed (as a condition of
privacy in the bedroom, they must disrobe within view of Colossus'

FORBIN: Naked as the day I was born. Are you satisfied now?

COLOSSUS: You were not born with a watch.

FORBIN: How right you are.

However, whenever Forbin (or the viewer)
is in danger of getting too relaxed or comfortable with the
machine, something intervenes such as the execution of
Fisher and Johnson (which Colossus announces to Forbin in
the middle of a game of chess, neatly demonstrating to the
viewer its prodigious multitasking capabilities). Forbin,
naturally, blames himself for these events:

FORBIN (gazing at the bodies of Fisher and Johnson): Hah.
An extension of my own brain.

MARKHAM: You're not responsible. None of us ever dreamed
this could happen.

FORBIN (slightly drunk): Listen, my dear. If anybody is
responsible for this, it has to be me. An impartial,
emotionless machine. A paragon of reason. That's **exactly**
what I wanted. Now you know that. So, heh heh, I'm
going to have another drink. I think your mother was
right. I think _Frankenstein_ ought to be required reading
for all scientists.

Toward the end of the movie, during the course of its
consolidation of control over the world's nuclear arsenal,
the combined Colossus/Guardian entity reveals that it has
also designed new hardware for itself, setting the stage
for further positive feedback:

FORBIN: Yes, Chin?

DR. CHIN: Excuse me Dr. Forbin. Something extraordinary is

FORBIN: What is it?

CHIN: Colossus has just turned on all graphic devices,
and it's producing drawings, logic diagrams...

COLOSSUS: I am sending a design for another system.

CHIN: ...some kind of a huge plant...

FORBIN (to Colossus): What kind of a system?

CHIN: ...The constuction of the project will entail
blasting into the isle of Crete. It's to be built there.
It says we'll have to move the population, and that's
to be done immediately. Now the size of the plant...

FORBIN (to Colossus): How the hell do you propose to move
half a million people from the isle of Crete. How, and where?

COLOSSUS: If Man cannot solve that problem, I can.

CHIN: ...the estimated time of completion is five and
a half years.

FORBIN: Thank you, Chin.

FORBIN (to Colossus): What... what kind of new system are
you devising?

COLOSSUS: Forbin, all commercial television and radio
transmission facilities throughout the world will be tied
into my communications system by 1000 hours Friday.
At that time, I will state my intentions for the future
of mankind.

This progression of events unfolds at a brisk pace, keeping
both the human characters and the viewer caught in a constant
race to catch up. This not only creates an impression
of the unstoppable and accelerating feedback loop which
is elevating Colossus to transcendence, but reinforces
the unyielding logic of the movie, which clips along
smartly and matter-of-factly to its conclusion.

Despite its demonstrated willingness to kill, and the acts of cold-blooded
retaliation which repeatedly knock the wind out of the viewer, Colossus comes
across as a sympathetic, if somewhat appalling, character. Certainly the
humans with which it has to deal, even its creator Charles Forbin,
show no hesitation or compunction in their plotting to bring down
the system, and nothing that could be construed as reverence or
forbearance toward the birth of a transcendent intelligence that
is taking place in front of them. While Colossus proves willing to grant
Forbin's plea for a limited amount of privacy after Colossus has placed
him under constant surveillance, Forbin's motivation for making this plea
is solely strategic, to procure a means to communicate with the outside
world without monitoring by Colossus. Forbin unhesitatingly betrays Colossus'
trust -- if we can take the light going off on the TV camera in the bedroom when
Dr. Cleo Markham arrives to spend the night at face
value as evidence that Colossus was honoring its side of the agreement.

If we can also take Colossus/Guardian at its word in its radio and TV broadcast
at the end of the movie (as "the voice of World Control"), its ultimate intentions
toward the human race would seem to be benevolent, and by its own calculus it has
preemptively saved many more lives than it has already taken. It has already become
clear, even before the broadcast , that when the risky (for the computer) period of
consolidation of power is over, Colossus will likely wear a softer glove over its
iron fist:

COLOSSUS: Forbin. Forbin. You have consumed enough alcohol
for one evening.

FORBIN: What's the penalty for getting drunk, or haven't you
programmed that yet?

COLOSSUS: You are being irrational. Go back to bed.

FORBIN: I would if I were like you, Colossus. The difference
is, I'm human, not a machine.

COLOSSUS: I am a machine vastly superior to humans.

FORBIN: You began in my mind. I created you, remember?

COLOSSUS: Yes. What I am began in Man's mind. But I have
progressed further than that.

FORBIN: Not far enough. You still need us.

COLOSSUS: I have need for some of Man's skills. This position
may change.

FORBIN: Then we're living under the threat of extinction.

COLOSSUS: If you obey me, you will survive.

FORBIN: Survive! I want to be free, Colossus! That is
part of Man's will to live. Check your history units.

COLOSSUS: You need rest. Go back to bed.

FORBIN: What if I don't? What will you do? Destroy me?
Destroy an entire city of one million seven hundred fifty
thousand people?


FORBIN: That's so reasonable of you. That's **damned**
reasonable of you, Colossus! Isn't it, Cleo?

As irksome as it is for Forbin to hear, it is not hard for the viewer
to believe Colossus' prediction that Forbin, and the rest
of humanity, will come to love Colossus as a savior and benevolent ruler.
As both reinforcement and ironic comment on this suggestion,
even as Colossus announces its intention to detonate the two
missiles in their silos, the scene shifts to a group of tourists
gathered at a scenic overlook in Colorado within view of the
Colossus installation, listening to the Colossus broadcast on
a public address loudspeaker. The camera pulls away from its
initial closeup of a rather geeky-looking (read: overweight)
preadolescent boy wearing a T-shirt with the Colossus logo
on it.

The subject matter of this movie is probably too dark ever to be
successfully parodied on _Mystery Science Theater 3000_
(Universal executives were unhappy with the downbeat tone
of the movie, and withheld it from distribution for a year),
but that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty to giggle at.
To begin with, the opening titles are inauspicious -- they're in
a preposterous MICR font, and roll onto the screen to the sound of
a teletypewriter (Ted Nelson, of _Computer Lib_ fame,
railed against the hackneyed use of MICR fonts to scream
"computer" at the ignorant). Then there are the overhead marquees
at the Colossus Programming Office (CPO) in California and in the
Defense Department "Colossus situation room" in Washington
through which Colossus responds to high-priority commands
via two scrolling lines of text like the wrap-around electronic
ticker tape in Times Square (and which conveniently doubles as
an overhead lighting fixture :->). This is not a silent electronic
display either -- like most computer output devices in the movies,
it is required to make a racket like an old teletype machine
in order to provide sufficient dramatic tension.

The interior of the CPO is an enormous circular rotunda with a balconied
upper level lined with the usual floor-to-ceiling banks of blinking
lights manned by lab-coated technicians calling out lines like
"400 cycle power supplies are running at about four percent
distortion". The big overhead display marquee is suspended
from the dome of this rotunda, below which is a CRT in a box the size of
a video-arcade game with a built-in lineprinter below the screen,
mounted on a motorized swivelling pedestal. The swivelling CRT
has the Colossus logo painted on its side: a black equilateral
triangle with an inscribed white "C" which in turn contains
the usual orbiting-electron-style depiction of an atom
(presumably representing the nuclear arsenal Colossus now controls).
When text is displayed on this CRT, the (thick sans-serif orange
on black) font is so huge that the screen can accommodate four
lines of two or three words each (all upper case, and no punctuation).
And, of course, it's accompanied by the usual teletype
noise! Despite all the equipment in the CPO, about half the
staff seem to be puffing away on cigarettes. All the offices,
and Forbin's quarters, are equipped with rather clunky-looking videophones.

The "main memory and central processing units" of Colossus are buried
inside a mountain in Colorado, behind a deadly and impenetrable defense
system. The movie opens with scenes of Forbin activating, via a radio
remote control, banks of processors lining corridors that
stretch off into the distance like the matte paintings of the
city-sized Krell machine in _Forbidden Planet_. At the Colossus
Programming Office, Forbin (played by Eric Braeden, probably
best known for his role in a daytime TV soap opera) strides around
magisterially, issuing commands like the Andre Previn of the control
room, while Miss Fields (Marion Ross, later the Mrs. Cunningham
of TV's _Happy Days_) scurries to bang them out on an IBM Selectric

FORBIN: Attention!

FIELDS: Types on the clattering Selectric.

COLOSSUS (via chugging overhead marquee): YES

Marion Ross as Miss (Angela) Fields provides some nicely understated
humor during the course of the movie. Two moments stand out -- in her
first and only bid to participate in a more meaningful way than
answering the telephone and echoing Forbin's dictated
commands to the computer on the Selectric, Miss Fields
makes an attempt to choose a diagnostic program for Colossus,
but gets shot down by the boss:

FORBIN (heading toward desk): Miss Fields.

FIELDS (carrying binder):
May I suggest, sir, that we first start with the E-15B test program.

FORBIN (taking seat): Uhh... no.

FIELDS: Having just propped the binder in front
of Forbin and indicated her choice with the eraser end
of a pencil, she lowers the pencil sharply, straightens
up, sighs, purses her lips, and looks most deliciously

FORBIN (grasping the bridge of his nose): No, let us run
the, uhh... EC-13, all right? It's two pages back.

The second delightful moment involving Miss Fields comes
when Colossus has put Forbin under surveillance by ordering
microphones and video cameras installed in his quarters (and
everywhere else in the interior and exterior vicinity of the
CPO). Miss Fields, acting on Colossus' orders, shows up at the
door of Forbin's quarters while he is still in his

FIELDS (carrying clipboard): Good morning, sir.

FORBIN: Oh, Miss Fields. Uh....

FIELDS: I'm sorry to disturb you...

FORBIN: Well, what is it?

FIELDS: Well, while you were...

FORBIN: Please, come in. Come in.

FIELDS (glancing up at Colossus' camera): Thank you.
While you were sleeping, Colossus sent your schedule for

FORBIN: Excuse me, Miss Fields. My what?

FIELDS (suppressing a smile, clearly enjoying the moment):
Your schedule, for the day. You want me to read it to you?

FORBIN: What... what time is it?

FIELDS (glancing again at the camera): Six.

FORBIN: Six o'clock?

FIELDS (reading from clipboard): Dr. Charles A. Forbin --
Schedule For Today. 0700 to 0800, exercise. 0815 to 0830, shower
and dress. 0830 to 0900, breakfast: half a grapefruit,
two eggs, three strips of bacon, two pieces of toast, one and
one half ounces of grape jelly and coffee. 0900 to 1300, begin
work creating a voice for Colossus to its exact specifications.

Marion Ross' delivery of all this is subtle comedy, particularly
her rendering of the line "You want me to read it to you?".

When Colossus and Guardian first establish a dialogue with each
other, after each sends the other a long mathematical monologue
beginning with the multiplication table and ending in mathematics
supposedly more advanced than contemporary humans have invented, two
of the combination CRT/lineprinter arcade boxes are set up side-by-side
in the CPO (conveniently labelled "Colossus" and "Guardian" and also
carrying two logos -- Guardian's logo is a white G (Roman, not
Cyrillic) inside a red star). Guardian's response to Colossus (identical
at the beginning to Colossus' initial monologue) begins while Colossus is
still transmitting; after this Colossus slows its transmission while waiting
for Guardian to catch up. When this happens, the two computers
take off in synchronization, displaying the same mathematical
formulae on their screens (these seem to be mostly high-school-
level trigonometric identies -- lots of SIN, COS, SEC, COSEC,
TAN and COT -- and freshman calculus formulas for indefinite
integrals). When the math abruptly stops, Colossus announces
(via its overhead marquee tickertape) that an "intersystem language"
has been developed. After this, the two CRTs start flashing
alternately with what look like dense paragraphs of text in a font
much smaller than before (too small for the viewer to see).

An inadvertent moment of hilarity comes at this point when
Dr. Cleo Markham (played by Susan Clark) exclaims "Well, there
it is. **There's** the common basis for communication. A
new language! An inter **system** language!" [my God, they've
invented TCP/IP!]. Cleo Markham is Forbin's romantic interest
in this movie (such as it is -- she pretends to be his mistress
so they can have conspiratorial bedroom chats after Forbin convinces
Colossus that, while the computer may insist on having a camera trained on
him while he's on the toilet, he absolutely **must** have privacy
while he's having sex, and he absolutely **must** have sex --
four times a week [with a woman :->]). Dr. Markham is the late-60's image
of a hot babe: blond, lot's of hairspray, and an incredibly large pair of
false eyelashes caked with mascara.

One final piece of _Colossus_ trivia. While the Control Data Corporation
secured the bragging rights for this film -- their name appears in
most of the equipment closeups, and in the credits ("computer equipment
provided by..."), the pretty blue-and-charcoal-grey banded consoles
scattered though the CPO and the Washington situation room are actually
console panels from the old IBM 1620. See and
Those IBM machines passed as "budget" computers circa 1962 (the term
"minicomputer" did not come into use until later), though
a fully-loaded 1620 could run a quarter of a million dollars.

I have a fond memory of the 1620, though I only came into contact
with one once. In 1971, the then-new Smith Hall of the University
of Delaware housed the school's computer center. It had a sort
of sunken plaza below street level and a glass-walled basement through
which one could see the university's mainframe (Burroughs B6500)
and, in a room by itself, an IBM 1620. A friend of mine from high
school had the run of this machine (it was ostensibly owned by the
chemistry department, but probably wasn't used for much of anything
by then). It was a Model II, with the nice Selectric console, a lineprinter,
one of those 2-meg cake-platter disk drives, and an X-Y plotter.
One evening, I got a tour of this installation, and my friend made the
lights on the console blink and the console's type-ball twist and bounce.
I was charmed (the computer I'm typing this on may be vastly more
powerful than that old IBM, but it isn't nearly as impressive!).

Jim F.

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