From the HAL 9000 to Halman – Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi fantasy might become reality

I watched a few minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the other night. That used to be my all-time favorite flick without exception. I’m not sure these days but I still like and respect it. The movie although groundbreaking also portrays the era of the late 1960s like no other.

The 2022 Vikings-themed film The Northman has a similar vintage ‘National Geographic’ feel, probably because it was shot with film and not digital cameras. And like 2001, it takes a while to get going. (Some critics who didn’t like 2001 said it never got going!).

The world has changed a lot since Kubrick’s – I would say – cinematic masterpiece. Digital tech has ushered in a whole new level of audio-visual effects but the stories themselves are not necessarily any better or more original.

There is a lot to talk about in this film, for example, the universal themes of human evolution, death and resurrection, and mankind vs. the machine but here we’ll focus on HAL 9000 and Halman.

Arthur C. Clarke

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

The alphabetical letters following each of the letters in HAL’s name are IBM, suggesting that HAL represents a dark flipside of computing and tech.

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

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

Later, while being stripped down to his basic functions, HAL laments in slow-motion speech, “I’m afraid, Dave.”

The film indirectly poses the question: Do machines possess consciousness? Only recently have philosophers of science considered the possibility that artificial intelligence (AI) may be both sentient and alive.

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

However, the HAL story gets complicated in later novels like 2010 (also a film), 2064 and 3001 with the literary device of retroactive continuity. Some plot details are tweaked 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.

The Sentinel is a 1948 short story penned by Clarke. It formed the basis for the greater arc of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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

3001 explores the tantalizing idea of Dave Bowman’s human consciousness uniting with the computer HAL to create a hybrid being called Halman.

I had a professor once who reminded me of a sort of paranoid Halman. The professor had come to Canada from a communist country and did everything they could to shoot me down. They also possessed, so it seemed to me, a super-intuition that literally was out of this world.

Sometimes I wonder if creeps like this professor are the ones who will take over our planet. America is great at making guns and colorful products but they do seem out to lunch when it comes to the, I would argue, reality of spiritual warfare. And history reveals time and again that the victors of any conflict almost always possess the greater tech.

What’s more powerful than some amoral rogue knowing what you are thinking?

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

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