HAL 9000

Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Colombo, Sri L...
Sir Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka via Wikipedia

HAL 9000 is name of the paranoid supercomputer in Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The alphabetical letters immediately following each of the letters in Hal’s name are IBM, suggesting that Hal represents the dark side of computing.

Hal is a clever, if violent and strange, machine. After murdering the Jupiter-bound astronaut Frank Pool during a spacewalk and attempting to murder his colleague Dave Bowman in a space pod, Hal rightly suspects that the sole survivor, Bowman, is about to disconnect his higher processing functions. He tells Dave:

“I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over.”

Later, while being stripped to his basic functions, Hal laments “I’m afraid, Dave.”

The film indirectly poses the philosophical question: Do machines possess consciousness? Only recently have philosophers of science considered the possibility that artificial intelligence (AI) may be not only sentient but also alive.

Apart from this issue, Hal arguably represents what writer Erich Fromm and C. G. Jung saw as the mass or “mechanical” aspect of mankind. Mechanical men and women follow the herd, do not express individual aspirations, and are always eager to blame their personal moral defects on someone else.

However, the HAL story becomes more complicated in later novels like 2010 (also a film), 2064 and 3001, where the literary device of retroactive continuity. Some plot and setting details are modified by Clarke but not at the expense of a greater, more holistic sense of coherence. For instance, in the sequel film 2010 we learn that HAL was told to lie by Washington, which was incompatible with HAL’s programming.

So the computer’s sinister ‘malfunction’ in 2001 becomes something more of an unavoidable (and forgivable) psychosis, ultimately caused by human error, as HAL ironically indicated in the original film.

3001 explores an intriguing idea where Dave Bowman (consciousness of human origin) unites with HAL (a computer program) to create a new kind of hybrid being named Halman.

Related Posts » Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cylons, Darth Vader, Mr. Data, Borg

Dave Bowman and the HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) 1968)



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