The HAL 9000 computer is one of the stars of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the novel it is based on by Arthur C. Clarke. Legend has it that the name HAL was derived because each letter comes one place before IBM in the alphabet. Arthur C. Clarke has always denied this, and the true origin of HAL’s name is recounted on the HAL 9000 Wikipedia page:
Although it is often conjectured that the name HAL was based on a one-letter shift from the name IBM, this has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. In 2010: Odyssey Two, Clarke speaks through the character of Dr. Chandra (he originally spoke through Dr. Floyd until Chandra was awoken), who characterized this idea as: “[u]tter nonsense! […] I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic”.
Clarke more directly addressed this issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:
As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.
Also, IBM is explicitly mentioned in the film 2001, as are many other real companies. IBM is given fictional credit as being the manufacturer of the Pan Am Clipper’s computer, and the IBM logo can be seen in the center of the cockpit’s instrument panel. In addition, the IBM logo is shown on the lower arm keypad on Poole’s space suit in the scene where he space walks to replace the antenna unit, and may possibly be shown reflected on Bowman’s face when he is inside the pod on his way to retrieve the body of Poole (there is speculation as to whether or not the reflection is that of the letters “IBM” or the letters “MGM”, the film studio).
HAL has become such an icon of our culture that we are fortunate neither Clarke or Kubrick noticed the downshift from “IBM,” or this epic computer may have been named “Siri.” Or Dora. Or Obie. Or any one of these other names of fictional computers.
David Carter says
Those who say there is no connection between HAL and IBM on the page or in the film are full of what really smart computers call bullshit.
The IT director at the hospital that I worked at was named Dave. I enjoyed sending him pictures of the HAL 9000 and the quote “I can’t do that, Dave”, and wearing my HAL tshirt. Wearing my HAL tshirt right now.
Guy Rutledge says
I think that this is more than a coincidence. The “IBM Blue” where “HAL” is printed is just a coincidence too I guess 🙂
Today – 9/15/2019
Scary to think our interconnected computer network is going the way of HAL. What will happen when our smart phones connected to the internet (IoT) decides that calling 911 is not in the computers best interest because someone in the household has been gazing at porn?
nate mathan says
There are only two movies that had a lasting impact on me. One was The Werewolf, a low budget silly movie that scared the pants offa me as a kid! For years, I was afraid that someone would sneak into my house like in the movie. I had nightmares for decades. I wish I had never seen that movie! The other was 2001. That did a number on my psyche. I loved every scene, every bit of dialog, every contraption, every idea about that movie. I felt like it freed me from an Earthy view of things and took me into outer space. And I know others who were affected the same way. We’d sit and talk about the ideas in the movie for hours. I felt like the movie was IMPORTANT. It changed me worldview. I’ve since read a lot of stuff about its meaning and I can see many interpretations. One of my favorites is that the monolith is really a movie screen turned 90 degrees so its vertical. Therefore, anyone watching the movie is like the Starchild. Instead of going through a Stargate, we, the watchers, go through the movie screen into another plane. It’s our job to realize that we should try to become like the astronaut – to experience a new consciousness. I know this sounds ‘reaching’ but its fun to think about. Also, Kubrick had a lot of conspiracy ideas that he possibly put in the movie in hidden ways. For instance, HAL might see the astronauts as lackeys of rich industrialists not interested in knowledge. But HAL’s programming says that the stated mission is to gain knowledge, not make money. And he thinks that the astronauts are too stupid to realize they are just pawns in a game. So he takes over the mission that’s ‘too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it”.
Yes, these are weird interpretations, but Kubrick always went deeper than any other filmmaker. His films always were about power and control behind the scenes. I wish he had been more open about this in his interviews over the years. Instead, he said each person must bring his own interpretation. That may be true, but YOU made the movie, man. It’s up to you to tell us what you had in mind, I think. I don’t like artists and directors who say the interpretation is up to the viewer.
Bethany Maloney says
‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
HAL Communications Corporation is a real corporation with facilities previously located in Urbana, IL. , which is where HAL identifies himself as being activated:
“I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H-A-L labs in Urbana Illinois on the 12th of January 1992.”
From the HAL corp website:
Initially starting as HAL Devices in 1966 … HAL Communications Corp. outgrew its existing 2,000 square-foot facility in Champaign and purchased a larger building in Urbana.
The author isn’t the final arbiter of meaning. If that were the case, then, for example, Hamlet could never have a Freudian meaning. IBM is a perfectly legitimate interpretation. Who’s to say besides that it wasn’t in Clarke’s unconscious?
Or who’s to say that it was indeed Clark’s Idea but he was later embarrassed that people had cottoned on so quick so he dug around for a different explanation.
Charlie Franz says
With an imagination and the gift to roll it out so we readers can enjoy his visionary scenarios I really doubt he goes rummaging around for inconsequential bullshit. Some individuals have such a convoluted idea of what makes up a scientist or author, what’s in their minds, what they think. That’s the result of poor education, poor learning skills. Clarke’s and Kubrick’s work will be around for centuries.
FRIENDLY PHIL says
I think the HAL / IBM entanglement is fun to consider and should not be dismissed. God, after all, wants us to be entertained and fascinated by “coincidence”, just as He is.
Christine Davies says
I agree. I have always assumed that HAL is IBM. I thought it rather fun that HAL was derived because each letter comes one place before IBM in the alphabet. But if it is really Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer then I have learned something new. ‘I can’t do that Dave’ resonated with me as one of the most chilling lines in cinema. Only superseded by quotes from ‘Clockwork Orange’ when it was suggested that all educated people should be jailed freeing up the criminals. Interested that this log connects the two films. Back to the gin.
Robert Quinn says
Clockwork orange = London slang for phoney robotic person.
michael sullivan says
I’m in my 70’s, and I’m also a cockney, it’s strange that I have never heard a fellow London Cockney refering to anyone as a clockwork orange. When the film first came out, people caught on to the title, “Clockwork Orange” because it was a catchy phrase, and the movie itself was weird. It wasn’t native cockneys who used that term, but hippies who thought the whole culture of “clockwork orange” and drugs were real “cool”. A cockney might say, “geezers got a broomstick up ‘is arse”.
I thought it was local slang for the Glasgow subway transit system. Nothing to do with the London East End.
Robert Quinn says
Counterfeit Reality is also implied by “clockwork orange”.
Robert Quinn says
The Gnostic Demiurge (HAL) is insane, as is Clarke’s AI entity.
Robert Quinn says
Neither Clarke nor Kubrick cite a Coptic origin for HAL. Nor does Lash acknowledge the coincidence.
Robert Quinn says
Found HAL in John Lamb Lash’s NOT IN
Robert Quinn says
HAL = Coptic ( only Greek capitals ) Gnostic concept of artificial holographic reality.
karl skidmore says
Hals name is short for Hallowed.
In August of 1966, 2 years prior to the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick wrote to Roger Caras, the vice president of his production company, and asked whether IBM were aware of HAL’s murderous actions in the story. Kubricks letter, and Caras’s reply, can be seen in this post on Letters of Note: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/the-letter-stanley-kubrick-wrote-about-ibm-and-hal/266848/