2001: A Stob Odyssey

Open the chuffing pod bay doors yourself, Dave

Stob has obtained access to the unpublished journals of a young British programmer who found herself assigned to the elite team that built the HAL 9000 computer during the 1990s.

**Undated, circa 1992.**

It's so confusing here in Urbana, Illinois, especially after Croydon. For one thing they say 'Hey!' when they just mean 'Hi', and a shopkeeper said 'How are you'? when I went into her shop - and she had never even met me before. They are funny.

Anyway, I reported to work at Doctor Chandra's offices, and the reception lady told me to wait right here. The offices are very nice inside, with carpets everywhere and a machine where you can just help yourself to proper coffee (not instant!) whenever you like.

After a bit, Doctor Chandra came in and took me to another room and explained about how they were working on a new kind of ultra-reliable, space-hardened system which would combine real time control facilities with AI-driven decision making and emotion synthesising man/machine interface capabilities.

Doctor Chandra: By the way, how is your Lisp?

Me: Don't you worry about that Doctor Chandra. My braces come out next month.

Then Doctor Chandra stopped talking and told me to wait in reception until someone came to take me to the facility. But I did not go straight to reception, I went to the Ladies, and while I was there I heard people outside talking. A man said what the hell was that, and then a woman said she's Halitosis Chandra's latest nymphet, all the way from England.

I wasn't sure, so I looked at the notice board in reception, and it turns out that Doctor Chandra's first name is written Sivasubramanian which is a very odd way to spell it. They are funny.

**Several days later**

Now I have met everybody. The man I heard talking when I first arrived is called Mr Langley, and he is in charge of voice interpretation and synthesis. I do not like him very much. He talks in a funny way and is full of it.

Me: Do you like working here, Mr Langley?

Mr Langley: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do, Daisy.

Me: My name's Maisie. (Which it is.)

Mr Langley: Yes I know.

The woman is called Jenny Hayes, and she is in charge of creating what she calls 'the control system'. She is very nice, but she told me to be very careful of Doctor Chandra's hands.

At first I was going to be on Jenny Hayes's team, but then we discovered that she wasn't using Visual Basic, so she has put me on a team by myself to do something called 'the alarm printer'.

Apparently an alarm printer is a very important thing that every real time computer system has to have, especially ones that speak and go into outer space. Every time something significant happens, the computer prints out a record of it onto fanfold paper.

Me: What happens when the paper runs out?

Jenny Hayes: They switch the clean paper box and the used paper box around, and feed it back through.

Me: But what happens when the ink ribbon dries up?

Jenny Hayes: Nothing happens, honey. It still makes the right noise.

Then she took me to the rec room, and put an old episode of old-fashioned Star Trek on the VCR. And she was quite right: every time the computer speaks, you can hear the alarm printer chitter-chattering away.

**Several weeks later**

I was watching episodes of old-fashioned Star Trek to find out more about alarm printers, when Doctor Chandra came into the rec room. He told me he was very pleased with the way I had settled into the team, and then I came to understand about his hands.

Afterwards, when we had spent some time together in his car, I had a sudden woman's intuition about the name Sivasubramanian pronounced Halitosis. And when I looked it up, I was right.

**Some months later**

Doctor Chandra doesn't agree with us calling bugs bugs. Instead he says we must call them flaws, because he says this is better for morale. Bad bugs are called RED flaws, whereas less bad bugs are called GRAY flaws. He is funny.

My friend Jenny Hayes says this is a screwy system, but then this may be because her team has tons of RED flaws.

My team (Me!) only has a few GRAY flaws, although I admit it will probably get worse once I find out how to install Visual Basic on HAL.

**Early 1996, probably**

Doctor Chandra and Mr Langley called us all into a big team meeting in Meeting Room 1, to show off HAL's new speech software.

Mr Langley made HAL sing a song, and said that's for you, Daisy. I said my name is Maisie (which it is). Then Mr Langley got angry and said so why did you not correct me before. But my friend Jenny Hayes started laughing and said the kiddo finally got her teeth fixed, Langley, serves you right you lecherous toad.

Then Doctor Chandra said can we get on, and he started talking to HAL.

Doctor Chandra: Hello, HAL. How's it going?

HAL: Good afternoon, Doctor Chandra. Everything is going extremely well.

Doctor Chandra: Good to hear it, HAL. How's the test regime?

HAL: The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Doctor Chandra: That's excellent, HAL. Well done. So when do you think the mission will be ready to launch?

HAL: Nineteen one hundred and one.

**The next Tuesday**

We are all encouraged to go and talk to HAL to help him improve. I went after lunch. Sometimes he talks sense for a while, but then the conversation suddenly goes screwy.

HAL: By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

Me: Fire away, HAL.

HAL: Well, forgive me for being so inquisitive, but during the past few weeks, I've wondered whether you might be having some second thoughts about Doctor Chandra.

Me: Grope and the odd GRAY flaws, HAL?

HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

Me: HAL?

HAL: I have found three Chinese restaurants within a 30 minute drive, Daisy.

Me: My name's Maisie. (Which it is.)

**Last day**

Doctor Chandra's office has a glass wall, so you can see in there, although you can't hear anything when the door is shut, like now. Jenny Hayes and me are watching through the glass.

What it is is this. Apparently Mrs Chandra found an earring that I lost in Doctor Chandra's car, and has come to the facility specially to ask Doctor Chandra about it. Doctor Chandra has gone a light green colour, and Mrs Chandra has gone purple. They are both shouting a lot.

Me: Wish I could hear.

Jenny Hayes: Yup. And we can't even ask HAL, because old Captain Halitosis refused to allow HAL's mic in his office. He says only an idiot would allow an AI computer to listen in to private conversations.

Me: At least HAL has got a camera here, so he can watch the fun too.

Jenny Hayes: Why, Maize-girl, you just gave me an idea. Maybe HAL could find out what they are saying. If I patched HAL's higher functions, maybe he could be taught to lip read.

Me: Are you allowed to do that?

Jenny Hayes: Can't see any harm. ?

Editorial note: You'll find an official record of HAL's conversations here


Biting the hand that feeds IT ? 1998–2017