Jan 122016


On this date, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey became operational. The date was given as January 12, 1992 in the movie, but 1997 is the year used in both the novel and screenplay. Here’s the relevant clip. HAL gives the date he went online starting at 3:10.

2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968 when there were extraordinary hopes and projections for the future. The plot was very simple; it could be summarized in two or three sentences. The movie was driven by images and special effects meant to convey the feel of a world that was right around the corner – video calls from pay phones, routine flights to a moon base, interplanetary flights etc etc. Arthur C. Clarke (author) and Stanley Kubrick (movie director) were both laughably wrong about these things. But their vision does capture the imagination. HAL 9000 is intrinsic to the movie (and the subsequent book), but not part of the original short story on which the movie was based.

HAL is initially considered a dependable member of the crew on a ship destined for Jupiter whose mission is secret (even from the crew). HAL maintains ship functions and engages genially with the human crew on an equal footing. As a recreational activity, Frank Poole plays against HAL in a game of chess. In the film the artificial intelligence is shown to triumph easily. However, as time progresses, HAL begins to malfunction in subtle ways and, as a result, the decision is made to shut down HAL in order to prevent more serious malfunctions. The sequence of events and manner in which HAL is shut down differs between the novel and film versions of the story. In the aforementioned game of chess HAL makes minor and undetected mistakes in his analysis, a possible foreshadowing of HAL’s malfunctioning.


In the film, astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole consider disconnecting HAL’s cognitive circuits when he appears to be mistaken in reporting the presence of a fault in the spacecraft’s communications antenna. They attempt to conceal what they are saying by discussing their course of action in a place where HAL cannot hear them, unaware that HAL can read their lips (that programmer should have been fired!). Faced with the prospect of disconnection, HAL decides to kill the astronauts in order to protect and continue its programmed directives, and to conceal its malfunction from Earth. HAL uses one of the Discovery’s EVA pods to kill Poole while he is repairing the ship. When Bowman uses another pod to attempt to rescue Poole, HAL locks him out of the ship, then disconnects the life support systems of the other hibernating crew members. Dave circumvents HAL’s control, entering the ship by manually opening an emergency airlock with his service pod’s clamps, detaching the pod door via its explosive bolts. Bowman jumps across empty space, reenters Discovery, and quickly repressurizes the airlock.

The novel explains that HAL is unable to resolve a conflict between his general mission to relay information accurately, and orders specific to the mission requiring that he withhold from Bowman and Poole the true purpose of the mission. This withholding is considered essential after the findings of a psychological experiment, “Project BARSOOM”, where humans were made to believe that there had been alien contact. In every person tested, a deep-seated xenophobia was revealed, which was unknowingly replicated in HAL’s constructed personality. Mission Control did not want the crew of Discovery to have their thinking compromised by the knowledge that alien contact was already real. With the crew dead, HAL reasons, he would not need to lie to them. He fabricates the failure of the AE-35 antenna-steering unit so that their deaths would appear accidental.


In the novel, the orders to disconnect HAL come from Dave and Frank’s superiors on Earth. After Frank is killed while attempting to repair the communications antenna he is pulled away into deep space using the safety tether which is still attached to both the pod and Frank Poole’s spacesuit. Dave begins to revive his hibernating crewmates, but is foiled when HAL vents the ship’s atmosphere into the vacuum of space, killing the awakening crew members and almost killing Dave. Dave is only narrowly saved when he finds his way to an emergency chamber which has its own oxygen supply and a spare space suit inside.

In both versions, Bowman then proceeds to shut down the machine. In the film, HAL’s central core is depicted as a crawlspace full of brightly lit computer modules mounted in arrays from which they can be inserted or removed. Bowman shuts down HAL by removing modules from service one by one; as he does so, HAL’s consciousness degrades. HAL regurgitates material that was programmed into him early in his memory, including announcing the date he became operational as 12 January 1992 (in the novel, 1997). When HAL’s logic is completely gone, he begins singing the song “Daisy Bell” (in actuality, the first song sung by a computer). HAL’s final act of any significance is to prematurely play a prerecorded message from Mission Control which reveals the true reasons for the mission to Jupiter.


In addition to maintaining the Discovery One spacecraft systems during the interplanetary mission to Jupiter (or Saturn in the original novel, published shortly after the release of the film), HAL is capable of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting and reproducing emotional behaviors, automated reasoning, and playing chess.

Everyone watching the movie loved HAL. HAL is calm and resolute (until his demise), and its voice is so utterly serene even when killing the crew or refusing orders. It’s not the serenity of a cruel dictator, but the voice of pure logic. Priceless.

I’ve talked about food in space before. You can consult these posts for ideas about actual food on space craft and as experimented with in artificial colonies.



Back in the 1960s, Clarke speculated a little about food production in long-term planetary colonies. He took hydroponic farming (growing plants in fertilized water rather than soil), as a given. No problem. The question of animal protein intrigues me, though. For permanent colonies to be fully self sufficient, they would have to rear animals. Clarke felt that large mammals, including cows, sheep, and goats, might be necessary for variety, but they are inefficient meat producers with a lot of waste. Rabbits, on the other hand, are ideal because they breed quickly, mature fast, and convert plants to protein quickly. So rabbits would be a mainstay. That would be fine by me as it would be for Chinese or Italian colonists. It might not sit so well with people from other cultures. For me, creating variety using primarily rabbit meat would be a bigger issue. But rabbit can be treated much like chicken (no, it does NOT taste like chicken). You can make rabbit and dumplings, rabbit stew, rabbit noodle soup, rabbit curry, and so forth.

My absolute favorite is rabbit pie. It can be made to be eaten hot or cold. I use this recipe from Mrs Beeton (with the addition of her thoughts on rabbit breeding – apt for space colonists). I usually bone the rabbit; Victorians were not so fussy.



  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 rabbit, a few slices of ham, salt and white pepper to taste, 2 blades of pounded mace, 1/2 teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, a few forcemeat balls, 3 hard-boiled eggs, 1/2 pint of gravy, puff crust.

Mode.—Cut up the rabbit (which should be young), remove the breastbone, and bone the legs. Put the rabbit, slices of ham, forcemeat balls, and hard eggs, by turns, in layers, and season each layer with pepper, salt, pounded mace, and grated nutmeg. Pour in about 1/2 pint of water, cover with crust, and bake in a well-heated oven for about 1-1/2 hour. Should the crust acquire too much colour, place a piece of paper over it to prevent its burning. When done, pour in at the top, by means of the hole in the middle of the crust, a little good gravy, which may be made of the breast- and leg-bones of the rabbit and 2 or 3 shank-bones, flavoured with onion, herbs, and spices.

Time.—1-1/2 hour. Average cost, from 1s. to 1s. 6d. each.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Seasonable from September to February.

Note.—The liver of the rabbit may be boiled, minced, and mixed with the forcemeat balls, when the flavour is liked.

FECUNDITY OF THE RABBIT.—The fruitfulness of this animal has been the subject of wonder to all naturalists. It breeds seven times in the year, and generally begets seven or eight young ones at a time. If we suppose this to happen regularly for a period of four years, the progeny that would spring from a single pair would amount to more than a million. As the rabbit, however, has many enemies, it can never be permitted to increase in numbers to such an extent as to prove injurious to mankind; for it not only furnishes man with an article of food, but is, by carnivorous animals of every description, mercilessly sacrificed. Notwithstanding this, however, in the time of the Roman power, they once infested the Balearic islands to such an extent, that the inhabitants were obliged to implore the assistance of a military force from Augustus to exterminate them.