Depending on your vantage point, HAL—the supercomputer at the heart of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—is turning 21, 26, or 50 this year.
In the screenplay, a malfunctioning HAL says, “I became operational at the H.A.L. Plant in Urbana, Illinois, on the 12th of January, 1992,” making the age 26. But in a novelized version of the screenplay, Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the film with Kubrick based on his own 1950 short story) changed the year to 1997, so HAL would be 21. Either way you slice it, the seminal film—both in terms of cinema and attitudes toward technology—will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release in April 2018.
2001: A Space Odyssey trivia
To prep for this milestone, here’s some film trivia to dazzle your sci-fi-loving friends:
- Exactly why the computer was named HAL remains somewhat of a mystery. Some say it’s HAL because those three letters precede the letters IBM, but Clarke has firmly denied this notion in interviews, stating the computer was originally named ATHENA.
- HAL Communications Corp., which is headquartered in Champaign, Illinois—the other half of the Urbana-Champaign metropolitan area and home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—gets plenty of calls from film buffs wanting to speak to HAL. The company was founded in 1972.
- Clarke chose Urbana as HAL’s birthplace in tribute to his professor George McVittie, who taught Clarke at King’s College but later became a professor of astronomy at the U of I.
- Elvis must have been a fan. He used the unforgettable Richard Strauss composition Also Sprach Zarathustra—the film’s opening score—as his concert entrance music during the white jumpsuit years.
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.