`HAL's Legacy' examines state of artificial intelligence
BY PETER DELEVETT
``I'm sorry, Dave, but I'm afraid I can't do that.''
Thus spake HAL, the murderous supercomputer in ``2001: A Space Odyssey.'' But
though the year 2001 is nearly over, ultra-smart computers that can talk,
think and kill even better than humans are still a long way off.
How far off? That's the question mulled in a new documentary, ``2001: HAL's
Legacy,'' that debuts at 11 tonight on PBS.
``There are some areas where we've met and surpassed the technology,'' says
David Stork, a Menlo Park scientist who wrote and narrated the documentary.
``We have much better computer graphics than HAL ever showed.''
On the other hand, the film points out that even Deep Blue, the IBM
supercomputer that bested chess master Gary Kasparov, can't do most things a
2-year-old child can, like understand that water is wet. Heck, Deep Blue
doesn't know how to play checkers.
Such challenges make artificial intelligence ``one of the most difficult
questions in all of science,'' says Stork.
Stork is a HAL nut. He recalls seeing ``2001'' as a 13-year-old, which kindled
his love of science. He's now chief scientist of Menlo Park-based Ricoh
Innovations, an R&D subsidiary of Japanese copy machine maker Ricoh. In his
spare time, Stork moonlights as a consulting associate professor of both
electrical engineering and computer science at Stanford.
The license plates on Stork's BMW read, ``HAL 9000.'' A private collector even
loaned him the original faceplate for HAL, the only surviving scrap of set
from the 1968 film.
For the film version of ``HAL's Legacy,'' which is based on Stork's 1997 book
of the same name, he flew to Sri Lanka to interview the octogenarian author of
``2001,'' Arthur C. Clarke. The film also features cameos by Intel co-founder
Gordon Moore and a slew of artificial-intelligence experts at Stork's alma
The documentary finds these brainiacs tinkering with things like voice
synthesis, computer optics, robotics and other technologies to help computers
see, hear, emote and understand the way we do. It's cool stuff. (For a sneak
preview, check out http://2001halslegacy.com).
The documentary's airing coincides with a two-week run of the original
``2001'' now under way at San Francisco's Castro Theatre, where Stork shot
part of the film. Since shooting wrapped, Stork's devoted a fair amount of
time to promoting the project. Two weeks ago, he was partying down at a gala
honoring Clarke at the Playboy Mansion in L.A.
Also in the crowd were Danny Hillis, chairman of Applied Minds, and Greg
Papadopoulos, chief technology officer of Sun Microsystems. Science isn't
always pretty, but someone has to do it.
THE NAME GAME: He co-founded disk-drive pioneer Shugart Associates, ran the
company for four years and eventually sold it to Xerox. But he's not valley
legend Al Shugart: He's Don Massaro, who in the annals of Silicon Valley is
something of the Fletcher Christian to Shugart's Captain Bligh.
Now Massaro's taken the helm of a new vessel, Campbell start-up ClickArray
Networks, which helps clients manage their Web traffic. On Monday, the firm
named Massaro chief executive officer and shortened its name to Array
The old name ``sounded too dot-commy,'' says Massaro, who worked for Al
Shugart at IBM and Memorex before helping found Shugart Associates in 1973. A
year later, the firm's board ousted Shugart and named Massaro president.
Shugart and Massaro haven't spoken since. But Shugart went looking for a
little payback when he later founded another legendary tech name, Seagate
Seagate began life in 1979 as Shugart Technology; Shugart says he was hoping
Xerox would sue the fledgling firm and in the process drum up publicity. When
that didn't work, he began casting for a new name.
Explains Shugart, who's now a venture capitalist in Santa Cruz: ``I was
looking for a seven-letter word that started with an S, had a G in the middle
and ended with T.'' Ironically, he ended up getting booted from Seagate in
1998. I'll bet he used a few seven-letter words then, too.
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