Friday, December 15, 2006

The Morality of HAL 9000

David and I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey last night, and I have to say it was an impressive film if you can appreciate the art of long stretches of silence and the hotly debateded and highly ambiguous ending. I know allegroically, the movie is suppose to send a rather specific and signficant philosophical message, but since I don't have the analytical ability to discuss those things, I wanted just to muse over some emotional responses that I had to the movie.

I found it interesting that both David and I were incredibly sympathetic towards HAL throughout the movie. In fact I would go so far to say that I felt much sorrier for HAL than I did for David Bowman. After all, Bowman and Poole were the ones who initialy plotted the 'death' of the computer, and what HAL does is in reaction to a threat to his own sentience. Since HAL is built with the ability to 'mimic' or reproduce all higher human functions, he should be recognized as a cognizant entity in his own right, one that has every interest and right to protect his state of being.

It's interesting because I wonder whether people feel empathy for HAL or whether the vast majority of viewers see him as a threat to be overcome rather than a character in a moral drama. I found it interesting that most people on the internet use the word 'murder' to describe HAL actions in pulling the life support from the sleeping scientists, but used other words such as 'disconnect' to describe what Bowman and Poole intended to do with HAL. If we treat HAL as a sentient being, as he is obviously meant to be treated, it doesn't seem these two actions are any different.
From this prospective, HAL is not a crazed, murdering computer but rather a being who reacts in order to defend his right to have sentience. This makes his actions not those of agression or betrayal, but rather those of defense. He must kill in order to avoid being killed. Once Bowman and Poole determine that HAL is in error, he does not have the option for mercy or rational argument, because Bowman and Poole view HAL's sentience as a tool, not as an entity in its own right. So HAL's actions under this light can be interpreted as the actions of a rational being who acts in self-defense. Interesting that viewers preceive him to be villianous, psychotic, and a cold-blooded murderer...

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