Fictional Chatbot: HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

HAL 9000, affectionately referred to as HAL, is thankfully not a real chatbot or computer of any sort. Luckily, he was only the product of human imagination and is a character in a movie. If you do not have a taste for Sci-Fi movies, HAL is an extremely powerful supercomputer featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie by Stanley Kubrick. The movie was based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke named The Sentinel.

HAL is tasked with managing all the spaceship systems on the behalf of a group of ambitious astronauts who have undertaken a secret mission to find proof of extraterrestrial life.

2001 a space odyssey 02

What is HAL 9000

2001: A Space Odyssey, a film by Stanley Kubrick

HAL is regarded to be the most powerful and capable computer system in the movie. It is generally believed that he cannot make a mistake under any circumstances. HAL is so determined to complete the mission that he grows paranoid of the astronauts who question its decision. He finally ends up killing all the astronauts in order to keep the mission, which it is tasked to complete, going on.

According to the story of the film, HAL is created on January 12, 1992. It was created by HAL Laboratories in Urbana, Illinois, and was commissioned in 1997. Along with piloting the Discovery One spacecraft, the HAL’s skill set includes the abilities of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotional behaviors, automated reasoning, and playing chess.

As I mentioned above, technically speaking HAL is not a chatbot but is something more than that. However, it has some eerie similarities with the real-life chatbots that we have now. First of all, both are a computer at the core. Both are capable of making decisions for us or guiding us in making decisions based on circumstances. Replicating natural human-like speech is also one of the shared properties of both of them.

Dave walks through the corridor of the Sentinel in 2001: A Space Odysseythe

Origin of the Name

According to the writer of the movie, Arthur C. Clarke, the name HAL is an acronym for Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer. After the release of the movie, people noticed that HAL was actually a one-letter back shift from the name of the famous computer company IBM. This claim and speculation of the movie being tied to IBM were strongly denied by both Clarke and the director of the movie Stanley Kubrick.

As of the company that developed HAL, HAL Communications Corporation is a real company and it does have facilities in Urbana, Illinois. It is the same location where HAL was first initiated. The first words of HAL at the HAL labs were: “I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H-A-L plant in Urbana Illinois on the 12th of January 1992”.

The Name Made By HAL

HAL has earned quite a name for the performance in the movie. It has even been given the position of the 13th greatest villain of all time by the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains. The 9000th asteroid discovered by humans is named 9000 HAL in honor of this fictional supercomputer chatbot.

Disney has included a humorous imitation of HAL by the name SAL 3000 in their animated series called Recess. The chatbot takes care of the children going to the Street 3 School in the animated series.

Inspirations for HAL

One of the most iconic HAL scenes in the movie is the one where HAL’s consciousness fades. The scene was inspired by a speech synthesis memory of the writer, Clarke. The demonstration was given by John Larry Kelly Jr. He used an IBM computer for the purpose. Kelly designed a voice recorder synthesizer program known as a vocoder, and it synthesized the speech for the song Daisy Bell. The music was provided by Max Mathews.

All the wonderful things HAL is portrayed to be capable of in the movie and all other technology shown in the movie were inspired by the speculations made by some of the most respectable scientists. One of the most notable names in that was the director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Marvin Minsky. He provided guidance throughout the movie to keep the tech shown in the movie realistic.

The type of abilities HAL showcased in the movie was speculated by scientists in the 1960s when computers and AI were in their infancy. It can be said that those individuals were a bit too optimistic for the 1960s. Some of the things speculated by them for the start of this century has not yet been realized and we are already one-fifth into this new century. The scientists hoped that such abilities would be possible in a few decades but that has not happened yet, other than in movies. One of the famous speculations among these was the one made by a pioneer of AI, Herbert A. Simon, in 1965. When he said that within twenty years, machines would be able to do anything only a man could do at that time. We still have to wait for technology to advance to the extent that we can handover all our tasks to artificially intelligent beings and enjoy a life of perpetual leisure and enjoyment.

Final Thoughts

Almost every new scientific breakthrough starts as a fiction in the form of a Sci-Fi novel or movie. HAL is just a demonstration of what computers can be made capable of doing, and we are getting closer to that with every passing day. It is just a matter of time that such computers will be a reality of our life. Chatbots have already started making their place in business, banking, finance, and even the personal lives of people in the form of AI friends. We already have cars that have bots built in them to drive them, and planes are already using autopilot to fly. It is just a matter of time that we will see bots like HAL doing everything for us. However, we need to be careful while creating them so that they cannot turn on us and start to eliminate their own creators.

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