In the interview done by the TV service, the journalist asked HAL if in view of his "enormous intellect he is ever frustrated by his dependence on people to carry out actions". In what way did HAL depend on people (the crew or others)?

2 Answers 2


HAL was a computer - and did not seem to have any robotic arms or effectors available to him to conduct experiments or repairs with. This meant that he was dependent on humans to carry out those specific tasks.

For example, when he reports that the AE-35 unit (the device that kept the Discovery's communication satellite locked onto Earth throughout the journey) as failing, he mentions that he has been unsuccessful in rerouting the circuits to resolve the problem and requires one of the astronauts to go out and replace the unit.

of course, it was never faulty to begin with.

  • 1
    "and did not seem to have any robotic arms or effectors available to him to conduct experiments or repairs with" He/It/She controls Betty for EVA tasks though. I suppose it's all down to the usual question - do we hand everything to the automation (and everyone is in hypersleep) or do we keep humans in the loop, as managers & arbiters, exception handlers and repair chimps? A question that was big in the era when the film was made btw - see: Digital Apollo Human and Machine in Spaceflight by David Mindell. Commented May 27, 2020 at 10:19
  • 1
    Bookwise, XD1 was also set up for fully automatic ops, so there are probably Wheatleys in some storage unit that we don't know about: "At the end of the 100 days, Discovery would close down. All the crew would go into hibernation; only the essential systems would continue to operate, watched over by the ship's tireless electronic brain. She would continue to swing around Saturn, on an orbit now so well determined that men would know exactly where to look for her a 1000 years hence. But in only 5 years, ..., Discovery II would come." Commented May 27, 2020 at 10:29
  • 1
    @DavidTonhofer I forgot about HAL controlling the pod - although it was limited to moving/orienting the pod to provide lighting (and then crashing into Poole), and we don't see fine control of the pod's end effectors. As for the hibernation in orbit - it wouldn't be a stretch for an astronaut to be revived in an emergency. If there were Wheatley's, why do they need any humans for the flight at all?
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 10:55
  • 1
    HAL is probably just doing psychological support for ...errr.. "essential workers" vis-à-vis the BBC interviewer. Again, from the book: The time might even come when Hal would take command of the ship. In an emergency, if no one answered his signals, he would attempt to wake the sleeping members of the crew, by electrical and chemical stimulation. If they did not respond, he would radio Earth for further orders. And then... Commented May 27, 2020 at 21:14
  • 1
    ... if there was no reply from Earth, he would take what measures he deemed necessary to safeguard the ship and to continue the mission – whose real purpose he alone knew, and which his human colleagues could never have guessed. Poole and Bowman had often humorously referred to themselves as caretakers or janitors aboard a ship that could really run itself. They would have been astonished, and more than a little indignant, to discover how much truth that jest contained. Commented May 27, 2020 at 21:14

HAL was created to interact with humans. He was made to serve the purpose of his mission. And while he controls motorized parts of the ship he has no physical control over manual systems onboard, he has no mechanical hands, limbs and no senses

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.