WASHINGTON: HAL is a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. But he’s more familiar to millions of Arthur C. Clarke fans as HAL 9000. He, or it, is the banal-sounding, murderous, red-eyed cyclopsean computer of spaceship Discovery One in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Hal may be a warning for all with upcoming 2020 Presidental Elections.
The dulcet tones of evil
HAL’s voice was provided by Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain, who passed away last Sunday of natural causes at St. Mary’s Memorial Hospital, near Stratford, Ontario. Rain was 90.
The actor could not have known back in 1968 that the digital factotum he played would prove so prescient in the current conversation regarding artificial intelligence, or AI.
When you think you can do no wrong
In the story, Discovery One’s mission to examine the possible influence of intelligent, extraterrestrial life on the evolutionary development of humankind is suddenly sidetracked when the HAL 9000 computer makes an error.
But this should be impossible, as HAL explains:
“The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information.”
But HAL begins to murder the ship’s crew in an effort to cover up a mistake in his analysis of what he thought to be a malfunctioning antenna. In this, HAL evolves from a soulless, numbers-crunching computer to a soulless and very human bureaucrat out to destroy the innocent.
A Hal of our own making
Take Judy Rivers of Logan, Alabama, for instance. She’s been killed by the heartless automatons of mindless bureaucracy. Not literally, just officially. You see, Judy found her name listed among the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. Among the list are the names of deceased individuals provided by funeral homes, hospitals, and state governments.
Rivers could not open a savings account at her local bank or get a job with a Social Security card that officially belonged to a deceased person. In fact, she was accused of identity theft for attempting to access credit in the name of a person no longer among the living.
But the Social Security Administration admits that roughly 12,000 Americans are accidentally placed in its dead file each year.
Banal, bureaucratic malice goes planetary
In Canada, meanwhile, businessman Irvin Leroux, the owner of an RV park in British Columbia was filing his taxes with receipts to reduce his liabilities. Leroux was improperly given a tax bill of $1 million after an audit.
The dramatic increase in taxes was after someone at the Canada Revenue Agency accidentally shredded Leroux’s tax file, including all his tax-deductible receipts going back years.
When Leroux complained, the revenue agency said – wait for it – it had no choice but to tax him at a higher rate because he lacked the necessary receipts to back up his claimed deductions. Despite the taxing agency destroying the receipts.
Leroux lost his home and business before the tax agency corrected its error. The irony of ironies, they eventually awarded Leroux a $24,000 refund.
Not so spacey an odyssey
“Look, Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this,” says the HAL 9000 computer to the lone survivor of its murderous rampage, now working to deactivate it. “I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently. But I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal…”
HAL ends his plea with the soothing and disarming words of every bureaucrat,
“… and I want to help you.”
Top Images: HAL 9000 computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” screen capture.
Inset of actor Douglas Rain in a 1979 production of Shakespeare’s
“Henry IV” at the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.