Every time I hear the phrase Artificial Intelligence, my mind flashes back to one of the landmark sequences in movie history – the scenes between HAL and David Bowman in that 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
I saw that mind-bender in St. Cloud’s Paramount Theater. It’s as vivid now, in memory, as it was then, when it first astonished me.
Directed by cinematic master Stanley Kubrick and co-written by him and Arthur C. Clarke, “2001” is about a manned space flight to Jupiter. Its two main astronauts on the spacecraft are Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and David Bowman (Keir Dullea). A few other astronauts are in sleeping pods, placed in suspended hibernation for the long trip.
The other space traveler is HAL 9000, a super-smart computer that (who?) never “sleeps” as he controls every technical system to make the trip possible. HAL was named from “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.” A super-smart dude, he can talk to the crew and even play chess. His “body” is only a glowing red-and-yellow “eye” connected to a long row of computer-board circuits (his “brains”).
At one point, Frank and Dave suspect Hal may be experiencing cognitive dissonance because he had failed to report a problem with the spacecraft’s antenna. Dave and Frank discuss the possibility of disconnecting Hal’s circuits. Little do they know that among Hal’s many skills, he had the ability to read lips.
Frank exits the spacecraft to fix the antenna. Hal remotely disconnects Frank as he fidgets with the antenna, causing him to go floating off in space to his ultimate doom. Then Dave leaves the spacecraft to help fix the antenna.
Dave cannot get back inside. Hal locked him out. Meantime, Hal disconnects life-support systems to the three hibernating astronauts.
Hal had been programmed, unbeknown to the astronauts, that absolutely nothing should jeopardize the mission to Jupiter, including human interferences.
The following conversation begins:
“Hello, Hal, do you read me? Open the pod-bay doors, Hal.”
Hal responds in his flat robotic-human voice:
“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that. I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”
Then Hal divulges to Dave he’d read his and Frank’s lips when they were whispering about disconnecting him.
“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it,” Hal says.
Dave listens in a kind of quaking panic.
“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”
“Open the door! Hal, Hal, Hal, HAL!”
Desperate Dave manages to open a manual hatch-door and soon he is next to Hal in the eerie red glimmering glow of Hal’s “room.”
As Dave proceeds to disable Hal’s circuit boards one by one, Hal – a sly sinister edge to his flat voice (mimicking human threat) – tells him, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dave.”
Hal says that part of his being programmed was learning to sing a song called “Daisy.”
“Would you like to hear me sing it?” he asks.
“Yes,” Dave answers, intent on unplugging circuit boards.
Hal begins to sing:
“Daisy, Daisy. Give me. your answer. do.”
Hal’s voice then starts to go haywire, like a drowsy drunken man slurring his words.
“I’m. half . . . crazy … all. for. the love . . . of you.”
Dave disconnects more circuit boards as Hal’s voice, just before he “dies,” disintegrates into a garbled, muffled incoherence on his last line of the verse.
Why, of all songs, did Hal sing “Daisy?” I learned later that long before the movie was made a computer was actually programmed to sing that song.
What a riveting scene! Hal’s voice is that of actor Douglas Rain, who should have won an Oscar for “Best Performance by a Voice.”
That scene is a chilling reminder that the smart “beings” we humans create (social media, for one) can out-smart us and do us in – or try to.