IBM's role in movie 2001 computer: chock it up to urban legend

My congratulations on your fine article detailing the Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Owego's Space Shuttle cockpit avionics upgrade efforts in the April 2001 issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics.

Jun 1st, 2001

My congratulations on your fine article detailing the Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Owego's Space Shuttle cockpit avionics upgrade efforts in the April 2001 issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics. However, I must correct a factual error.

On page 21, discussing the AP-101S General Purpose Computers and associated HAL software, you state that "Arthur C. Clarke, the author of the book [2001, A Space Odyssey] came up with the name by going back one place in the alphabet for each letter in IBM, which becomes HAL."

This is clearly untrue and unfortunately today has the status of an urban legend. I refer you to the book published by MIT Press, HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality (http://mitpress.mit.edu/e-books/Hal). In the forward, penned by Clarke himself, he categorically denies this and refers to a passage he deliberately inserted in 2010: Odyssey Two:

"Is it true, Dr. Chandra, that you chose the name Hal to be one step ahead of IBM?"

"Utter nonsense! Half of us come from IBM and we've been trying to stamp out that story for years. I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic."

Ron Fish, manager, processing subsystems business development for aerospace systems Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Owego

Owego, N.Y.
ron.fish@lmco.com

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