ILLIAC Was HAL 9000’s Granddaddy

Science fiction is usually couched in fact, and it’s fun to look at an iconic computer like HAL 9000 and trace the origins of this artificial intelligence gone wrong. You might be surprised to find that you can trace HAL’s origins to a computer built for the US Army in 1952.

If you are a fan of the novel and movie 2001: A Space Oddessy, you may recall that the HAL 9000 computer was “born” in Urbana, Illinois. Why pick such an odd location? Urbana is hardly a household name unless you know the Chicago area well. But Urbana has a place in real-life computer history. As the home of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana was known for producing a line of computers known as ILLIAC, several of which had historical significance. In particular, the ILLIAC IV was a dream of a supercomputer that — while not entirely successful — pointed the way for later supercomputers. Sometimes you learn more from failure than you do successes and at least one of the ILLIAC series is the poster child for that.

The Urbana story starts in the early 1950s. This was a time when the 1945 book “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC” was sweeping through the country from its Princeton origins. This book outlined the design and construction of the Army computer that succeeded ENIAC. In it, Von Neumann proposed changes to EDVAC that would make it a stored program computer — that is, a computer that treats data and instructions the same.

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I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That

HAL9000 Personal Computer

“Let me put it this way, Mr Amer. 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. “

With that in mind, who wouldn’t want a HAL 9000 personal computer at home? For his latest project, [Eduardo Zola] brings us a very realistic Raspberry Pi powered HAL 9000, complete with an all seeing eye.

In case you’re not familiar (boo!) HAL 9000 is a character from 2001: a Space Odyssey. His name is an acronym for a Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic sentient computer who is responsible for controlling the Discovery One spacecraft, and well, he goes crazy.

[Eduardo] has built this replica out of wood, a bit of paint, a Raspberry Pi, a speaker, webcam and a beautiful red all-seeing-eye, lit with LEDs. It’s a rather fitting entry to our Hackaday Prize contest.

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