You are hurtling across the abyss of space on an expedition to unexplored planets. Your only companion is a fellow astronaut: the three hibernauts who like in a deep freeze sleep will not be awakened until their skills are needed. An essential member of your crew is Hal, the electronic, almost-human brain that ceaselessly guides your course. For months your atom powered craft “Discover'; has been carrying you away from earth at a hundred thousand miles an hour. You are now farther from home than any man in history.
Your living quarters within 400-foot-long space craft is a centrifugal drum equipped with an electronic library of literature and music. Here you relax, eat, exercise, sleep, and chat with Hal, the conversational computer who never forgets anything – not even your birthday.
Your mission is of such importance that it has been surrounded by the deepest official secrecy. You are probing a fantastic frontier, following a trial that ...view middle of the document...
Hal’s whole being is built around the ability to communicate at electrical energy speeds. There is never a moment when Hal is not observing the aspects of Discovery. We might think of Has checking a distant sensor reading as composing a request, identifying a location, transmitting the request, and receiving and processing the response. For Hal, though, it is a action that takes no effort and occurs instantaneously. What is more, the response can always be relied upon to be accurate. The fact that million of such operations occur every second is normal for Hal (instantaneous for Hal means something quite different from what it means to Dave or Frank, the two astronauts aboard Discovery, a remark that has some significance for what follows a little later).
Maybe Hal’s human interaction programming should have been more thorough. The programming was done solely for the astronauts’ comfort, and was never intended to help in any of the really important parts of the mission, such as making objective and effective decisions.
How was Hal going to defend himself against effective “death';? Dave was out for blood. What would you expect Hal to do in response? Lurk behind a space pod and bash Dave over the head with a handy oxygen cylinder as Dave came storming past? No, that would be too reminiscent of what a man-ape would do four million years ago.
Hal’s emotional appeal would probably have worked with any human being alive at that time except Dave. I can think of no more effective means of defense for Hal. The idea that Hal was ever “afraid'; in the human sense, any more then he would be capable of feeling “pride'; on account of the 9000 series reputation, are notions that simply have no meaning once you accept the undesirability of Hal’s non-human existence.
Arthur C. Clarke creates the cosmic desolation and splendors that man will someday see as he travels gigamiles into time and space. The interplanetary craft of 2001 are scientifically exact projections of future space vehicles. And the mission, man’s lonely search among alien stars his intelligent equal, or master, is fantasy today. But gathering evidence indicates that this wild surmise may well be fact tomorrow.