The 13 most common questions about HAL, the computer from 2001

Hal from 2001


After all these years, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is still our defining vision of scary computers from the future. And he’s got a biography to match any person.

The Basics

Q: What does HAL stand for?

HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.

Q: Wait? Isn’t HAL a parody of IBM?

For years, people have theorized that the HAL name took IBM’s name and subtracted a letter in the alphabet. It seems like an unlikely coincidence, but officially it isn’t the source of HAL’s name.

According to author Arthur C. Clarke, the IBM story is “utter nonsense.”

“As far as I know,” Clarke said, “Stanley and I cooked up the name HAL, and if we’d noticed any resemblance to IBM, we would have changed it because IBM was very helpful to us. Soon after the film came out, somebody pointed out this resemblance, and this has become part of the mythology. It’s pure coincidence.”

The Movie

Q: Who did the voice of HAL?

Actor Douglas Rain played HAL.

In rehearsal, actress Stefanie Powell did HAL’s voice, but the androgynous voice was switched out for a man’s. Nigel Davenport played HAL on set, but he was replaced after shooting. Originally, actor Martin Balsam was chosen for the role (he’s most famous for playing Detective Arbogast in Psycho). However, Stanley Kubrick said Balsam wasn’t right for the part. “We had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like,” Kubrick said. “Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid- Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part.”

Q: Did HAL and Dave work together?

No. Douglas Rain recorded his lines in a studio and didn’t meet Keir Dullea, the actor who played Dave Bowman.

Q: Why did HAL break down?

Kubrick says it was an “acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility.”

Q: Why was HAL so into that one song?

At the end of the film, HAL sings Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two). It was the first song ever sung by a computer, so that’s probably why Clarke chose it. You can listen to the original recording.

In addition to the song’s historic significance, Clarke based it off a visit to Bell Labs. His friend John Pierce showed him the computer singing that song, so Clarke put it into the story.

The Life and Loves Of HAL

Q: When was HAL born?

In the movie, HAL was activated on January 12, 1992. In the book, it wasn’t until 1997 that HAL went live.

Q: Where was HAL born?

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Arthur C. Clarke’s college math professor became a professor there, so Clarke chose it as HAL’s birthplace.

Q: Was HAL always called HAL?

Originally, Clarke called HAL by the name Socrates, and then he used ATHENA. It changed to HAL during the production of the movie.

Q: Who made HAL?

HAL was created by Doctor Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai at the University of Illinois.

Q: Was HAL gay?

Yes, this is an actual question people have had about HAL. As absurd as it seems, Stanley Kubrick didn’t dismiss the idea of HAL having sexual preferences. According to him, HAL was a “straight” computer.

Q: What happened to HAL?

At the end of 2001, Dave unplugged HAL’s central core. In 2010, HAL and his twin, SAL, were both restarted. HAL sacrificed himself to save his human crew, but before he died he was transformed into a non-corporeal being (like the floating baby at the end of 2001). Finally, in 3001, Hal merged with Dave Bowman to create one creature known as Halman. Unfortunately, we don’t know if they sang Daisy in harmony or not.

Q: Can you buy HAL?

Sadly, the original HAL is privately owned. But you can buy a very expensive replica. Just be careful it doesn’t turn on you.

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