How one views the satellites may affect one's reading of the film. Noted Kubrick authority Michel Ciment, in discussing Kubrick's attitude toward human aggression and instinct, observes "The bone cast into the air by the ape (now become a man) is transformed at the other extreme of civilization, by one of those abrupt ellipses characteristic of the director, into a spacecraft on its way to the moon." In contrast to Ciment's reading of a cut to a serene "other extreme of civilization", science fiction novelist Robert Sawyer, speaking in the Canadian documentary 2001 and Beyond, sees it as a cut from a bone to a nuclear weapons platform, explaining that "what we see is not how far we've leaped ahead, what we see is that today, '2001', and four million years ago on the African veldt, it's exactly the same—the power of mankind is the power of its weapons. It's a continuation, not a discontinuity in that jump."
Kubrick, notoriously reluctant to provide any explanation of his work, never publicly stated the intended functions of the orbiting satellites, preferring instead to let the viewer surmise what their purpose might be.