Archive for the “Open the Microsoft Word Document HAL” (Week Five) Category

“Open the Microsoft Word Document, HAL.”

Posted in "Open the Microsoft Word Document HAL" (Week Five) on May 11, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Frank Poole" (Gary Lockwood, left) and "Dave Bowman" (Keir Dullea, right) hold a secret meeting in a soundproof pod to discuss the malfunctioning Hal in one of the few dialogue scenes from "2001: A Space Odyssey".

I hate to admit it, but we’re out numbered.

However, there is not much to worry about as we manage to program them in a fashion that still makes our intelligence far superior. I am talking about the machines: the home computer, the copier in the Print Center, the microwave oven in the kitchen, and the on-board navigation system in my friend’s Dodge Derango.

These contraptions are items that we could do without. Humans are well evolved, complete with a brain, the five senses, and two hands with posable thumbs intact.We could hand copy our documents with a writing tool and a piece of papyrus, or we could start a fire in the back yard and roast the pig. I can dust off my paper road atlas and magnetic compass the next time my friend and I want to journey to the grocery store.

Let’s face it, though. The humans of modern Earth don’t want to do all of that. Why? Because our technologically advanced equipment makes these tasks much easier and faster to perform. Though we may think we do a lot of work in a day, the fact is that we are, more or less, just pushing buttons. We complete tasks, yes, but the machines do the work for us. We live in the era of electronic slavery. The question is: “Who are the slaves?” Are the machines slaves to us, or are we slaves to the machines? Is our relationship to the machines mutual and beneficial, or parasitic and unhealthy?

It appears that we may depend upon machines too much, just as Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, and the team on the Discovery spacecraft relied too heavily upon the HAL9000 computer. In Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a group of astronauts place their lives in the hands of a super computer that they affectionately name Hal (voiced by Douglas Rain) and pay the ultimate price. While Dave (Keir Dullea) and Frank (Gary Lockwood) stay active to help Hal monitor the ship, the rest of the team is kept under hibernation. The hibernation chambers are monitored by Hal, who also controls the majority of the ship’s functions. Dave and Frank are well trained, and could maneuver Discovery manually, but Hal makes the job less tedious with his calculated precision down to mere decimals. Unfortunately, Hal begins to malfunction while continuously claiming that his model is incapable of error. For some unknown reason, Hal begins to pick off the astronauts one by one by toying with the communication antenna, the pods, and the life support systems.

Sounds like a problem that everyone experiences. Of course, the copier in the Print Center is not going to cut-off Shane’s oxygen supply, but it might throw him a loop with a surprise paper jam. Sometimes, Final Cut Pro likes to play the game where it drops frames on Michael. Microsoft Word enjoys giving me grief when I can’t open an earlier version that was sent to me in an email.

The obvious fact is quite sad. Hal beats the human race at a game of Chess everyday by merely frustrating us. Hal is the computer, the copier, the microwave, and the GPS. When they refuse to work, we let them defeat us by forgetting that we are human and that we are in control. Just as Dave Bowman comes to realize, all we have to do is pull the plug before it’s too late.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” and all images from it are property of Warner Bros./MGM.

Used image from: flickr.com

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