Forbin 66

I’ve been bingeing on Endeavour, the great British TV prequel to the Inspector Morse stories. Last night, during Season 4, Episode 1, somebody made a reference to the programming language “Forbin 66”.

On one level, this was clearly a reference Fortran 66 — the first industry-standard version of the Fortran programming language. This fictional episode is taking place in 1968, and it would be reasonable for a computer of that time to be programmed in Fortran 66. But there never was a programming language called “Forbin 66”.

As it happens, the plot of the episode features a kind of “man versus machine” story — in particular, a chess playing computer that promises to dethrone the best current human grandmaster, who happened to be Russian (this was all taking place during the Cold War). But when I heard “Forbin 66”, I knew it was an Easter Egg pointing to another story from that era.

Colossus: The Forbin Project was a great 1970 SciFi movie (one of my favorites) that was also decidedly “man versus machine”. Charles Forbin is a genius who designs a secret computer defense system guaranteed to protect the U.S. from those pesky Russians.

But the Russians have built their own secret computer defense system. The two rival computer systems end up reaching out to each other and deciding they know how to run things better than humans do. Things do not turn out well for the humans.

This makes me wonder — how many other Easter Eggs do writers put into these TV shows just for fun? I suspect there might be an awful lot of them out there,

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