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Jan. 12, 1992 or 1997: HAL of a Computer

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Jan. 12, 1992 or 1997: HAL of a Computer
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen or read 2001: A Space Odyssey, this article contains details that reveal important plot developments. So, if you like to be a tabula rasa when you view a film or read a novel, stop here.
1992, or maybe 1997: HAL 9000, the master computer aboard the Discovery spaceship in the fictional film and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, becomes operational. He will inspire millions of dreams — and some nightmares — of artificial intelligence.
First, the year: When astronaut Dave Bowman is removing the hardware modules that govern the computer's higher cognitive functions, HAL regresses to his infancy and begins an eerie recitation of bits of his earliest knowledge: "I am a HAL 9000 Computer Production No. 3. I became operational at the H—A—L plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992."
At least that what HAL says in the 1968 film. Director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay, inspired by Clarke's 1950 short story "The Sentinel." The film was not based on a novel, but Clarke soloed the novelized version of the screenplay, and he changed HAL's birth year to 1997.
Now, the name: Chapter 16 of the novel clearly states that HAL stands for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer." Many film viewers, however, thought HAL was a one-letter-ahead cypher for IBM. In his book The Lost Worlds of 2001 Clarke dismissed that idea as embarrassing, given all the help IBM had given to the film: "We ... would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence."
In fact, HAL's original name was Athena, goddess of war, wisdom and fertlity, but Kubrick decided a male personality and voice would be better for a menacing supercomputer. Martin Balsam was cast first for the role, but was dropped because his voice was too emotional. Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain won the role with neutral, unctuous tones.
The place: Urbana, Illinois is home to the University of Illinois and — since 1986 — the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which developed the first web browser, Mosaic. HAL's lobotomy monologue in the book mentions his first instructor, Dr. Chandra. In fact, the only Chandra at UI in 1968, at least, was a Mr. Shasti Chandra. He was writing his thesis on spacecraft attitude control, but told a reporter he had nothing to do with making the film.
The movie, which cost $10.5 million ($64 million in today's money), premiered in New York City on April 3, 1968. The dazzling special effects did not impress all the critics: The New York Times described 2001 as "somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring," while Pauline Kael deemed it "monumentally unimaginative." Kubrick promptly cut 19 minutes from the film, and the final cut debuted three days later.
HAL also appears in three sequels: 2010: The Year We Make Contact (aka 2010: Odyssey Two), 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. In 2010, Dr. Chandra further pooh-poohs the IBM-HAL name theory.
Source: The Making of Kubrick's 2001, ed. Jerome Agel, Signet, 1970



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