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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Colossus-the Forben Project (1970)

A gigantic computer, Colossus, is put in charge of America’s defences. Immediately afterwards its Russian counterpart, Guardian, goes online. Colossus and Guardian start communicating, eventually merge and take of the world. The chief scientist in charge of designing Colossus is Dr Charles Forben. About 27 minutes into the movie Colossus starts talking to Guardian. It starts with the multiplication table and then quickly works its way up to trigonometry and calculus.

SOMEBODY: What the hell is that?
FORBEN: The multiplication table.
HEROINE: Maybe Colossus is trying to find a common ground for communication.
CIA boss Graber on the phone.
FORBEN: Hello, Mr. Graber.
GRABER: Hello, Dr. Forben. I was just wondering: Is that what you call a colossal sense of humour?
FORBEN: The multiplication isn’t classified this year, is it?
GRABER: Very funny. How long does your brainchild keep that up?
FORBEN: Well, you see, it’s much more interesting when it starts dividing.
GRABER: I can hardly wait. I suppose you know that the Russian machine has been activated. We got a quick rundown on it. It is similar to Colossus in layout but it is not concentrated in one area.
FORBEN: Oh? Colossus must be sending it back to school. The Russians must be absolutely furious about that.
GRABER: I’m glad you’re in such a good mood. I’ll call you back later.
FORBEN: Yes, thank you.
Views of computer screens flashing the images below.
FORBEN: This is incredible.
OTHERS: What? Something wrong?
FORBEN: It’s books on calculus, but.
HEROINE: But what?
FORBEN: It’s different.
FORBEN: Take a look at it.
SOMEBODY: From the multiplication tables to the Calculus in less than an hour.
SOMEBODY2: God only knows where they will be by morning.
SOMEBODY1: Five years of CalTech in 15 seconds.
SOMEBODY3: It’s beyond comprehension, I don’t like to think about it.
FORBEN: Take a look.
SOMEBODY: It’s going so fast, the entire system could break down.
FORBEN: Well let’s see what up there now. Harrison, dump the terminal’s buffers and print what is being transmitted at this moment.
HARRISON: All right.
After Forben has a look at the the printout.
SOMEBODY: What is it, Charles?
FORBEN: This is way beyond me. This is deep in finite absolutes.
SOMEBODY: Well, this is certainly beyond the knowledge of any human being.
FORBEN: No it’s not.
HEROINE: Isn’t it?
FORBEN: No, because whatever it is, we can go back and analyse this whole printout in detail. This might very well become new knowledge for mankind.
At this point Guardian starts communicating with Colossus.
President on the phone.
FORBEN: Yes, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT: Charlie, what’s going on.
FORBEN: Well, apparently, Colossus and Guardian are establishing a common basis for communication. They started right at the beginning with the multiplication table.
Well, what are they up to?
FORBEN: I don’t know, sir, but it’s quite incredible. Just the few hours that we have been studying the Colossus printout, we have found a new statement of gravitation, and a confirmation of the Elicon??? theory of the expanding universe. It seems science is advancing hundreds of years within seconds. It’s quite fantastic. Just take a look at it.