Is the Internet becoming HAL 9000?

What does the resignation of an England football manager have to do with a science fiction film made in 1968?

What does the resignation of an England football manager have to do with a science fiction film made in 1968?

The connection lies in lip reading, John Terry and Stanley Kubrick.

Let me clarify those three things before we see how they intersect.

  • Lip reading is a technique of understanding speech through the visual movements of the lips, face and tongue with information.
  • John Terry is the Chelsea footballer who was caught up in a racism row, which ultimately triggered the resignation of England manager Fabio Capello.
  • Stanley Kubrick is the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in which two astronauts are caught lip reading by the ship’s computer HAL 9000.

But how precisely do the worlds of football and cinema collide?

Well, let’s take the John Terry case first.

The England national team manager Fabio Capello resigned yesterday, which was front page news in the UK.

Over the last few months a storm had been brewing over an alleged racist incident involving Terry.

It finally exploded when the Italian manager resigned after he felt that his bosses at the FA had mismanaged the whole affair.

The controversies section on his Wikipedia entry are a reflection of how Terry’s personal life has affected his professional activities.

This was the case on October 23rd, when during a game with West London rivals Queens Park Rangers he was involved in an altercation with an opposing player Anton Ferdinand.

The incident was serious enough for him to be questioned by police and later charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.

One of the factors that may yet influence the case was footage that quickly spread online as people posted links to YouTube videos via Facebook, Twitter and forums.

Here is just one example, captured by Jonny Gould on his iPhone whilst watching the game on television.

He later posted it to YouTube where – as I write this – it currently has 117,119 views:

It shows how a site built for sharing videos has also become something of a social hangout as well as the largest media library ever built.

People can like or dislike and exchange comments on videos that can be seen instantly around the globe.

This is how one gamer and football fan responded, inviting viewer comments to his YouTube channel:

In previous years, when something like this happened organisations or rich individuals could place an injunction, effectively silencing newspapers until everything was public knowledge.

We now live in a digital world where controversial claims can be dissected at dizzying speed before they are even investigated, let alone brought before a court.

Footballers like Ryan Giggs can’t stop all the speculation being posted about them on Twitter, whilst Joey Barton (@joey7barton) and Wayne Rooney (@waynerooney) can stamp it out by using their own accounts as their own 140 character press office.

What is a pest for some is useful for another.

In the case of John Terry, how is all the online speculation going to affect his court case?

His defence lawyers might argue that the current videos on the web unfairly prejudice his case, but the prosecution could equally argue they be used as Exhibit A in evidence.

It is a matter for the judge to decide whether or not video from a site currently outside of UK law is admissible in this particular case.

But how does Stanley Kubrick fit it to all this?

His film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) managed to have a profound influence on both cinema (e.g. Star Wars, Alien and The Terminator series), technology (e.g. the iPad and Siri) and even US game shows.

His thoroughness in releasing his films also helped shape the modern box office report.

Just four months after Kubrick’s death in March 1999, Steven Spielberg spoke of how his friend told him about the profound importance the Internet would have:

“Stanley predicted that the Internet was going to be the next generation of filmmaking and filmmakers …and when I woke up on Sunday morning, I do what I do every morning. I clicked on AOL to get my headlines …and it said ‘Kubrick dead at 70’.

It was only days later that the irony, that that’s how I would discover that Stanley had moved on, was going to come from the technology that Stanley had sort of – both with giddiness, excitement and also with profound caution – told me was going to be the next generation that might change the form of cinema…”

Kubrick was correct about the profound effects of the Internet, not just on cinema (e.g. piracy, distribution and marketing) but about how it has become this vast abyss into which we push and pull information, some highly personal, on a daily basis.

When I saw Jonny’s video of John Terry (which passed from Sky Sports to his iPhone and then on to YouTube) my first thought was of this scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the spaceship’s computer HAL 9000 lip reads the astronauts who are discussing him in (what they think) is a private space:

The parallels with the Terry case are striking: he could yet be convicted by a lip reading video in the same way that Kubrick’s two astronauts were rumbled by a supercomputer.

The Internet has, in a sense, become HAL 9000.

If you haven’t seen the film I won’t spoil the ending, but the solution to a problematic super computer is remarkably similar to what governments and politicians from around the world have proposed in the light of leaked US cables, uprisings, revolutions, riots and copyright infringement.

In a broader sense the automated distribution of vast amounts of personal data via sites like Facebook (which currently has 845 million users), may yet have profound effects on our lives and the world we live in, whether we use them or not.

As different forms of social media spread and continue to reshape our lives maybe Kubrick’s sci-fi film will become even more relevant?

> More on John Terry, The Internet and Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia
> BBC News report on the Terry case and the Capello resignation