I heard the song, growing up, and even rode a tandem bicycle a time or two. For some reason, it never even occurred to me to wonder why it popped up in science fiction; I think I just assumed that it was about the strangest, most incongruous little ditty a computer could sing.
You’ve probably seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if so, you’ll recognize the sad, creepy demise of the on-board computer, HAL 9000, in this scene:
But why that song, of all songs? The song most of us know as “Bicycle Built for Two” is actually called “Daisy Bell,” and was composed by Harry Dacre in 1892.
1957, Max Mathews of Bell Labs wrote a program called MUSIC for the IBM 704. One of the first computer sound-generating programs. 1962, physicist John L. Kelly Jr., also of Bell Labs, used an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech, recreating the song Daisy Bell with musical accompaniment from Max. Apparently, author Arthur C. Clarke was visiting a friend at Bell Labs and saw a demonstration. He was so impressed that he incorporated it into HAL’s break-down in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I haven’t been able to find anything to indicate why Max Mathews chose “Daisy Bell,” but I suspect it was a nod to Bell Labs.
And that’s today’s epiphany!
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