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Yet HAL has inspired countless scientists to make fantasy a reality. The magazine Scientific American went so far as to suggest that our anthropomorphic view of machines can be attributed almost exclusively to Kubrick's movie. Had it not been for those people who followed up the visions of Clarke and Kubrick, we would not even have what limited artificial intelligence there is today, the magazine said.

We have known for centuries that art can change reality, but we still resist the logical extension of this insight to the realms of science and technology.

When Jaron Lanier complains that the current generation of scientists and engineers did not even grow up with the tools of scientific skepticism, then this obviously has something to do with the quasi-aesthetic education of engineers and scientists. There is indeed an element of Bohemian outlandishness inherent in both the hopes and fears of people like Kurzweil, Joy, Rifkin, Venter and Freitas, and in this country at least, this outlandishness is barely understood.

Yet it is these same people who also have the courage to take cognitive risks — as if taking the legacy of the 20th century one stage further. "Why can't we write all 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on a pin head?" asked the great American physicist, Robert Feynman, 41 years ago, adding, wryly, that space was plenty. "This," says Freitas, "was the beginning of nanotechnology. And you know what? There's enough space there for us all."

Aug. 1

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