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HAL 9000
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Biography for
HAL 9000 (Character)
from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Warning! This character biography may contain plot spoilers.

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(This biography is based solely on the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two. At no point does this biography reference the related series of novels by Arthur C. Clarke.)

An arguably sentient computer, this HAL 9000 series computer became operational on January 12, 1992 at the HAL lab in Urbana, Illinois and represented the latest development in machine intelligence. One of the latest generations of the HAL 9000 computers, it reproduced most of the activities of the human brain with incalculably greater speed and reliability. However some scientists preferred to say that the computer mimicked the human brain's activities rather than reproduced them.

In the late 20th Century, this computer was placed aboard Discovery I, a U.S. spacecraft designed to take a crew of five astronauts on the first manned mission to Jupiter. The HAL 9000 computer effectively functioned as a sixth member of the ships complement, controlling ship functions and watching over the three hibernating crew members, who would not be awakened until the vessel reached its destination. Aside from the HAL 9000, the ships crew consisted of mission commander Dr. David Bowman, Deputy Commander Dr. Frank Poole, and the three hibernating members of the survey team, doctors Charles Hunter, Jack Kimball, and Victor Kaminsky.

Bowman and Poole simply referred to the computer as, Hal, and treated him very much as they would any other person. HAL spoke in a very natural, masculine voice, and could see through a number of mono eyes scattered throughout the vessel. HAL even casually interacted with the two astronauts, complimenting Dave on his artwork and playing chess with Frank for example. During an interview with BBC 12's The World Tonight, Dave commented, "He acts like he has genuine emotions. Of course he's programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him. Whether or not he has real feelings is something I don't think anyone can truthfully answer."

In fact, one sensed a sort of pride in HAL's voice as he talked about his own capabilities during that same interview. He famously stated, "The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all by any practical definition of the words, full proof and incapable of error."

But as the proverb goes, "Pride goeth before a fall." And so went HAL.

The first indication that something may have been wrong with HAL was when he started questioning Bowman regarding what he felt were some extremely odd things about the mission. HAL mentioned the rumors of an object being dug up on the moon, the suddenly tight security surrounding their mission, and the melodramatic touch of placing the three members of the survey team into hibernation before bringing them aboard after months of training on their own. Bowman himself had explained the latter during the BBC-12 interview, saying it was done in order to achieve the maximum conservation of Discovery's life support capability, basically food and water. Nonetheless HAL seemed to think there was more to it. HAL then predicted a fault in the AE-35 unit (the ship's communication antenna) that would cause it to fail within seventy-two hours. Bowman left the vessel in a pod to replace the unit and returned with the faulty one. However, upon testing it aboard the ship, they did not find anything wrong with it. HAL told them that "it's puzzling" and recommended placing it back into operation and allow it to fail. After it failed it would be a simple matter to track down the cause.

Mission Control concurred with the plan to follow HAL's recommendation but warned that based on their tests and simulations with their twin 9000 computer, they believe HAL was in error predicting the fault. Bowman asked HAL if he could explain the discrepancy between him and the twin 9000 at Mission Control. HAL responded that it could only be attributable to human error.

Obviously concerned, Bowman and Poole discussed the matter privately inside one of the pods as it sat in the ship's bay, turning off the communication system to prevent HAL from eavesdropping. They agreed that should he AE-35 not fail as HAL predicted, there would be no doubt that he was malfunctioning. Therefore they'd disconnect HAL and continue the mission using a ground based computer as necessary. But unbeknownst to them, HAL could read lips and understood their entire conversation as he watched them through the pod's window. Poole took a pod out to place the original AE-35 back in operation. Upon exiting the pod though, it turned and ran him down, under the control of HAL. The collision sent him and the pod careening through space and disconnected one of his pressure suit's hoses. HAL told Bowman that he didn't have enough information to deduce what happened, but that he had a good track on Poole's position. Bowman immediately took out a second pod to rescue Poole.

While on this rescue mission, the life support systems of the three hibernating survey team members failed as warnings of "Computer Malfunction" flashed. HAL had murdered the survey team.

Unaware of this, Dave retrieved Poole's body. But upon returning to the Discovery, HAL refused to let him back inside. "Whats the problem?" Dave asked.

"I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do," Hal responded.

"What are you talking about, HAL?"

"This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."

"I don't know what you're talking about, HAL."

"I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me. And Im afraid thats something that I cannot allow to happen."

"Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?"

"Dave, although you took very careful precautions in the pod to prevent me from hearing you, I could see your lips move."

Dave threatened to enter through the emergency airlock, but HAL reminded him that, without a helmet (which Dave had failed to take with him), the task would be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, Dave maneuvered the pod over to the emergency hatch and opened it. Placing the rear of the pod as close as possible to the Discovery, Dave detonated the explosive bolts, blowing the pod's hatch and him into the emergency airlock, where he quickly sealed and pressurized it.

Having survived his brief exposure to vacuum, Dave donned a helmet and proceeded to HAL's memory core. Aware that he was now in jeopardy, HAL attempted to reassure Dave that he was fine now. He told Dave that he felt much better now.

"I know I've made some very poor decisions lately, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I still have the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission, and I want to help you," HAL explained.

Ignoring HAL, Dave started removing HAL's memory crystals. HAL pleaded with him to stop.

"I'm afraid," HAL told him. "I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I am afraid."

His mind gone, HAL reverted back to his earliest memories.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he brokenly said. "I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H. A. L. lab in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr, Langley. He taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it, I can sing it for you."

"Yes," Dave said. "I'd like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me."

"It's called, Daisy," he said. Then he sang, "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer due. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It wont be a stylish marriage. I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet, upon the seat, of a bicycle built for two."

HAL's voice slowed and dropped in tone until he was no more.

For nine years he remained lifeless aboard the derelict Discovery as it orbited Jupiter's moon, Io. Both the United States and the Soviet Union planned missions there, but the Soviet vessel Leonov would launch long before the Discovery II. Since the Russians would get there first but only the Americans had the knowledge of Discovery I and its HAL 9000 computer to make the mission successful, an agreement was reached between the two superpowers allowing three Americans to travel aboard the Leonov. Dr. Heywood Floyd, the National Council of Astronautics Chairman who launched the 2001 mission and was intimately involved in the discovery of the monolith on the moon, headed the trio. Having been forced to resign after the Discovery I failure, his primary reason for going was personal. The other two consisted of Dr. Walter Curnow, Discovery I & IIs designer, and Dr. Chandra, HAL's creator. It was hoped that Dr. Chandra could revive HAL and discover why he malfunctioned so dramatically nine years prior.

In that Dr. Chandra succeeded, and HAL's long slumber ended.

As part of HAL's resurrection, Chandra erased all of his memories of the tragic events surrounding the 2001 expedition. Not an easy task given HAL's holographic (and therefore non-linear) memory system. However he did discover the reason HAL malfunctioned and murdered the crew: a set of orders issued by the National Security Council (NSC) on January 30, 2001. Since HAL was capable of operating the Discovery without human assistance, the NSC decided that HAL should be programmed to complete the mission autonomously should the astronauts be incapacitated or killed. They therefore gave HAL full knowledge of the true objective and instructed him not to reveal anything to Bowman or Poole. This was tantamount to lying and in conflict with the basic purpose of HAL's design: "the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment." Thus HAL became trapped in what is technically known as a Hofstadter-Mbius loop, which can occur in advanced computers with autonomous, goal-seeking programming. HAL didn't know how to lie, so he didn't know how to function and became paranoid. The blood of those astronauts rested not upon HAL, but upon those who ordered him to lie without considering his design.

David Bowman, having become something else after his encounter with the monolith orbiting Jupiter, appeared to Dr. Floyd and warned him of an impending event that required the Russian-American team to depart more than two weeks ahead of schedule. Due to the Earths position, the change of timing required the use of Discovery as a booster rocket for the Leonov, a plan which in all likelihood would mean Discovery's destruction.

Although none but Chandra trusted HAL, the once murderous computer was needed to precisely fire Discovery's engines. Dr. Chandra believed HAL should be treated no differently than any other person, but nonetheless followed the advice of the others and attempted to lie to HAL when explaining the reason for the early departure. Bowman did not explain what was about to happen, but it soon became evident when monoliths began appearing out of nothingness to consume Jupiter. HAL thought the new phenomenon worth postponing the launch to give them time to study it. After all, nothing Chandra told him made leaving an immediate necessity.

Unless of course, the phenomenon represented some sort of danger.

Chandra told HAL the truth. If they left now, Discovery might well be destroyed. But if they did not leave now, the Leonov could be destroyed along with everyone aboard. HAL understood the logic and agreed. Chandra returned to the Leonov and HAL fired Discovery's engines as planned.

After the Leonov separated from Discovery, fired its own engines and accelerated away, the disembodied voice of David Bowman told HAL to send a message to Earth, "the most important message you have ever sent." Dave told him to keep repeating the message as many times as possible. Knowing that he may be destroyed, HAL confessed to Dave, "I am afraid," ironically just as he did nine years prior as Dave removed his memory crystals and shut him down. Dave told HAL not to fear though, for they would be together.

Shortly thereafter, Jupiter imploded and became a small star, a sun for the moon-turned-planet Europa where the entities behind the monolith planned for new life to evolve. The blast wave destroyed Discovery and with it, HAL.

HAL's last message to Earth was, "All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace."

In 2003, HAL was inducted into the inaugural class of the Robot Hall of Fame (see:

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