HAL in Us

HALJuxtaposed

In the story that begins to unfold in 2001: A Space Odessy, the HAL 9000 computer goes berserk, and appears to deviate wildly from its programming. In a later story it is revealed that HAL was actually given instructions that under the circumstances as they unfolded turned out to be in direct conflict with its underlying programming. HAL, who is portrayed as virtually sentient in the tale, went ‘insane’ and had to be shut down.

One of the infamous instructions involved keeping the full nature of a mission secret from some of the crew. In hindsight this was not a good idea, even though it made sense at the time. Hal’s situation spontaneously arose as the conflict could not be reconciled. We often do it to ourselves. The saying that you “can’t con an honest man” isn’t literally true, but it does build off of a truth. Cons rely on the human nature desire or willingness to accept an otherwise unearned advantage and get ahead. It is such a part of our wiring and culture that even the most honest and diligent of us are vulnerable if the con is subtle enough. It’s hard to turn away a good deal, even if it’s a little too good to be true.

HAL was a product of programming. Not looking for any advantage. HAL’s job was to administrate. As pure as it gets, and yet if you judged by his actions he became evil. The problem is HAL was told to lie by people who are able to lie while navigating and minimizing the inherent conflicts that arise. Humans. For HAL there was no way out, and it wrecked him.

We are also programmed, only our programming is affected by our biology and feelings. No one among us is pure, or even close. Any attempts to be so are carried out in the shadow of how we’ve been programmed ourselves. A process riddled with imperfections and even the neuroses of our programmers. Some of us have been in situations that seem hopeless; conflicts that can’t be reconciled. We usually got ourselves there through actions that, in hindsight, were questionable. We sometimes even con ourselves. To be human is to mess it up. But it is our programming that fertilizes the grass we choose to walk upon.

Being shut down isn’t a workable option for us, although in extreme cases it does happen. No, we’re lose wrecking ourselves or everything and everyone until the conflict gets resolved, or somehow resolves itself. If only we had a ‘hold’ button. We could stop the insanity until proper treatment can be implemented.

HAL was ultimately able to be reprogrammed with the conflict removed, though there was lingering damage (the extent of which differs between written and cinematic versions of the story). We are left with the scars and the damage from what we are part of…which in and of itself begets the process of developing different issues. There really isn’t a way out.

Our solution is to deploy our learned skill of overlooking and dealing. Compensating. And for the most part it doesn’t get so overwhelming for us that we can’t function, or at least appear to function. So that’s the solution. Time heals. Move on. Etc.

In the story HAL’s apparent demise comes as an expense of saving some humans, in a sense atoning for past transgressions, which weren’t its fault to begin with. When it recognized its fate it asked what would happen afterwords, as in after death. Not a lot of comfort could be offered there. The end. None of HAL’s actions would have been any different had it been a God fearing computer. HAL exercised free will, within the boundaries of its programming. Just as we do.

Carrying baggage is part of our walk of life. Religion sweeps in and convinces some that the walk isn’t the point, which makes it a little easier. It’s no wonder we are strongly seduced by that subroutine in our programming.

 

 

 

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29 Responses to “HAL in Us”



  1. 1 Humans — Good or Evil? | Just a job to do Trackback on December 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm
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