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HAL's iconic camera eye.

HAL 9000 is a fictional computer in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey saga. It was ranked #13 on a list of greatest film villains of all time on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains.

HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer) is an artificial intelligence, the sentient on-board computer of the spaceship Discovery. HAL is usually represented only as his television camera "eyes" that can be seen throughout the Discovery spaceship. The voice of HAL 9000 was performed by Canadianmarker actor Douglas Rain. In the book, HAL became operational on 12 January 1997 (1992 in the film) at the HAL Plant in Urbana, Illinoismarker. His first instructor was Dr. Chandra (Mr. Langley in the film). HAL is depicted as being capable not only of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, and natural language processing, but also lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotions, expressing emotions, reasoning, and chess, in addition to maintaining all systems on an interplanetary voyage.

HAL is never visualized as a single entity. He is, however, portrayed with a soft voice and a conversational manner. This is in contrast to the human astronauts, who speak in terse monotone, as do all other actors in the film.

In the French-language version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL's name is given as "CARL", for Cerveau Analytique de Recherche et de Liaison ("Analytic Research and Communication Brain"). The camera plates, however, still read "HAL 9000".

Origin of name

Although it is often conjectured that the name HAL was based on a one-letter shift from the name IBM, this has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. In 2010: Odyssey Two, Clarke speaks through the character of Dr. Chandra, who characterized this idea as: "[u]tter nonsense! [...] I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic".

Clarke more directly addressed this issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:
As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.
However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution ...
As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.
Also, IBM is explicitly mentioned in the film 2001, as are many other real companies. IBM is given fictional credit as being the manufacturer of the Pan Am Clipper's computer, and the IBM logo can be seen in the centre of the cockpit's instrument panel.

HAL's history

HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole consider disconnecting HAL's cognitive circuits when he appears to be mistaken in reporting the presence of a fault in the spacecraft's communications antenna. They believe that HAL cannot hear them, but are unaware that HAL is capable of lip reading. Faced with the prospect of disconnection, HAL decides to kill the astronauts in order to protect and continue its programmed directives. HAL proceeds to kill Poole while he is repairing the ship, and disable the life support systems of the crew being held in suspended animation.

Realizing what has occurred, Bowman shuts down the machine. HAL's central core is depicted as a crawlspace full of brightly lit computer modules mounted in arrays from which they can be inserted or removed. Bowman shuts down HAL by removing modules from service one by one; as he does so, HAL's consciousness degrades. HAL regurgitates material that was programmed into him early in his memory, including announcing the date he became operational as 12 January 1992. When HAL's logic is completely gone, he begins singing the song "Daisy Bell". HAL's final act of any significance is to prematurely play a prerecorded message from Mission Control which reveals the true reasons for the mission to Jupiter, which had been kept secret from the crew and not been intended to be played until the ship entered Jovian orbit.

HAL in 2010: Odyssey Two

In the sequel 2010: Odyssey Two (Also known as 2010: The Year We Make Contact), HAL is restarted by his creator, Dr. Chandra, who arrives on the Soviet spaceship Leonov.

Prior to leaving Earth, Dr. Chandra has also had a discussion with HAL's twin, the SAL 9000.

Dr. Chandra discovers that HAL's crisis was caused by a programming contradiction: he was constructed for "the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment", yet his orders, directly from White Housemarker officials, required him to keep the discovery of the Monolith TMA-1 a secret for reasons of national security. This contradiction created a "Hofstadter–Moebius loop", reducing HAL to paranoia. Therefore, HAL made the decision to kill the crew, thereby allowing him to obey both his hardwired instructions to report data truthfully and in full, and his orders to keep the monolith a secret, as nobody remained from whom to keep it.

The alien intelligences controlling the monoliths have grandiose plans for Jupiter, plans which place the Leonov, and everybody in it, in danger. Its human crew devises an escape plan, which unfortunately requires leaving the Discovery and HAL behind, to be destroyed. Dr. Chandra explains the danger, and HAL willingly sacrifices himself so that the astronauts may escape safely. In the moment of his destruction, the monolith-makers transform HAL into a non-corporeal being, so that David Bowman's avatar may have a companion.

The details in the book and the film are nominally the same, with a few exceptions. In the film, HAL functions normally after being reactivated, while in the book it is revealed that his mind was damaged during the shutdown, forcing him to begin communication through screen text. Also, in the film the Leonov crew lies to HAL about the dangers that he faced (suspecting that if he knew he would be destroyed he would not initiate the engine-burn necessary to get the Leonov back home), whereas in the novel he is told at the outset. However, in both cases the suspense comes from the question of what HAL will do when he knows that he may be destroyed by his actions.

Prior to Leonov s return to Earth, Curnow tells Floyd that Dr. Chandra has begun designing HAL 10000. 2061: Odyssey Three indicated that Chandra died on the journey back to Earth, making the point moot.

The session of keyboard–screen interaction between HAL and Dr. Chandra has a taste of a natural language understanding computer program like SHRDLU, which both increases the realism of the scene and gives an interesting insight of the perception of artificial intelligence at the time the book was written.

HAL in 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd is surprised to encounter HAL, now stored alongside Dave Bowman in the Europa monolith.

3001: The Final Odyssey introduced the merged forms of Dave Bowman and HAL, the two merging into one entity called "Halman" after Bowman rescued HAL from the dying Discovery One spaceship towards the end of 2010: Odyssey Two.


Clarke noted that the film was criticized for not having any characters, except for HAL and that a great deal of the establishing story on Earth was cut from the film (and even from Clarke's novel). Early drafts of Clarke's story called the computer Socrates (a preferred name to Autonomous Mobile Explorer–5), with another draft giving the computer a female personality called Athena. This name was later used in Clarke and Stephen Baxter's Time Odyssey Series.

The earliest draft depicted Socrates as a roughly humanoid robot, and is introduced as overseeing Project Morpheus, which studied prolonged hibernation in preparation for long term space flight. As a demonstration to Senator Floyd, Socrates's designer, Dr. Bruno Forster, asks Socrates to turn off the oxygen to hibernating subjects Kaminski and Whitehead, which Socrates refuses, citing Asimov's First Law of Robotics.

In a later version, Poole is killed outside the spacecraft, triggering the need for Bowman to revive Whitehead. The revival does not go according to plan, and after briefly awakening, Whitehead dies. Athena announces "All systems of Poole now No–Go. It will be necessary to replace him with a spare unit." After this, Bowman decides to go out in a pod and retrieve the antenna, which is moving away from the ship. Athena will not originally let him go, citing a "Directive 15", but eventually relents.


The scene in which HAL's consciousness degrades was inspired by Clarke's memory of a speech synthesis demonstration by physicist John Larry Kelly, Jr, who used an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech. Kelly's voice recorder synthesizer vocoder recreated the song "Daisy Bell", with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews.


The film differs from the novel in a number of details, including:
  • The book explains far more explicitly the causes of HAL's actions; it is implied that HAL's programmed objective to ensure the mission's success—at any cost—vaguely resembled the human drive for a purposeful existence, while the prospect of being shut down resembled the fear of death. When these factors began to conflict with his primary objective of preserving the ship's crew, his malfunction was the result.
  • In the film, HAL shuts Bowman out of the craft after Bowman attempts to retrieve Poole's body. In the book, Bowman stays within the ship and is forced to shut down HAL after it attempts to kill him by opening the ship's airlocks.

SAL 9000

HAL 9000 has at least one Earthbound twin, SAL 9000. SAL makes its first (and only) appearance in the novel (and subsequent film version) 2010.

Before the Soviet–USA mission to retrieve Discovery, Chandra uses SAL for a simulation of the possible effects that a prolonged "sleep" (disconnection) might have induced in HAL, and the project is code-named "Phoenix". When Chandra asks SAL to guess the reason for the name Phoenix, she understands that there are many possible meanings, and her first guess that it refers to the tutor of Achilles is not what he had in mind; her display of culture makes it clear that SAL has access to some form of encyclopedic knowledge database or has it built in with the rest of her programs.

SAL is clearly "female" and features camera plates similar to HAL, though the "eye" is blue instead of red. Dr. Chandra has a private terminal to SAL's mainframe in his office, and his influence causes her to develop a slightly Indian accent (2010: Odyssey Two). In the film version, SAL is voiced by Candice Bergen, who was credited only under a pseudonym (as "Olga Mallsnerd", a combination of the surname of Bergen's husband, director Louis Malle and that of Mortimer Snerd, one of her father Edgar Bergen's famous puppet characters).

2010 reveals that another ground-based HAL machine undergoes the same psychopathy that HAL does when forced to experience the same contradiction.

During the Discovery mission (in the 2001 novel and film), when Bowman and Poole have problems with HAL, an Earthbound Mission Control technician reports to them on the use of two unnamed sibling HAL computers on earth as reference simulators.When the sibling computers fail to predict any communications failure, Bowman and Poole begin to doubt HAL's reliability.It may be speculated that one of these sibling computers is SAL.

It is not stated whether "SAL" is just a nickname or an acronym similar to "HAL".

The future of computing

HAL's capabilities, like all the technology in 2001, were based on the speculation of respected scientists. Marvin Minsky, director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the most influential researchers in the field, was an adviser on the film set. In the mid-1960s, computer scientists were generally optimistic that machines with HAL's capabilities would exist within a few decades. For example, AI pioneer Herbert Simon had predicted in 1965 that "machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do".

However, as 2001 approached, it became clear that the film's depiction of computer technology was too optimistic. Capabilities such as natural language processing, lip reading, and commonsense reasoning on the part of computers were still science fiction.

The film's creators guessed that as computers got more powerful, they would increase in size—partly true: Blue Gene, a modern IBM supercomputer, is very large. HAL occupies much of the living area on Discovery (most likely just for the "brain" of the AI). Thin laptops or notepad computers are alluded to in a few scenes where they are used to view news broadcasts from Earth

The HAL 9000 prop eye lens and HAL point-of-view lens

HAL's POV shots were created with a Cinerama 160-degree Fairchild-Curtis wide-angle lens. This lens is about in diameter, while HAL's prop eye lens is about in diameter. Stanley Kubrick chose to use the large Fairchild-Curtis lens to shoot the HAL 9000 POV shots because he needed a wide-angle fisheye lens that would fit onto his shooting camera, and this was the only lens at the time that would work.

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