Is Hal 9000 on the Way?

Posted on July 29, 2014 by Robert Ringer


Like most people over sixty, I have a love-hate relationship with computers. I guess I’m lucky to have been able to jump on the caboose of the computer train just in the nick of time, back in 1982. By just in the nick of time, I mean that I was still young enough to become proficient on a computer, something that would have been considerably harder to do had I waited another ten years or so.

It never ceases to amaze me how, with a computer, I can do in minutes what used to take hours — or even days. Basically, my computer has become my brain. Because I put a lot of work into organization, there aren’t many files or documents that I can’t find in seconds. It sure beats having rows of file cabinets filled with paper, and, even just as important, it beats having to rely on your brain to remember things.

Back in the day, whenever I received a letter, resume, contract, or some other written document in the mail, I could tell a lot about the person who crafted it. When people had to create documents without artificial aids, it was easy to make an initial separation of the wheat from the chaff.

But today, everyone’s work looks professional. So much so that I don’t allow myself to be impressed just because someone’s computer-generated document sparkles. The Internet is overflowing not only with readymade resume templates, but every conceivable kind of form, so there’s very little knowledge or skill required to put together a great looking document. And that’s what’s bothersome to me — the fact that in today’s digital world a person doesn’t need much skill or knowledge to navigate through and around the checkpoints.

Take the GPS, for example. I don’t use a GPS, because I’ve always carried around a map in my head while driving. If you know where the sun is, and approximately what time of the day it is, you know where east, west, north and south are (or at least you should). Nighttime is a bit more challenging, but so long as that map is in your head, you’re usually in good shape.

Today, millions of people — especially young people — have no clue how to get around without a GPS. My son takes it to an extreme and has a backup GPS in his car, just in case the first one goes bad. He can’t imagine how anyone could get from one location to another without using a GPS.

The last time I was out with him, he was, as usual, glued to his GPS, listening to that annoying English bloke who keeps telling you to bear right, then turn left after a hundred yards. It’s like having a stalker in your car.

Because I don’t trust anyone who’s invisible, I started volunteering directions to my son. At one point, I told him, “Take the next exit. It will start out curving to the left, then it will curve back to the right and you’ll be going south on the Beltway.”

After getting off at the exit, he was amazed at how accurate my description had been, which prompted him to say, “I can’t believe it. You’re a human GPS.” I didn’t bother to tell him that virtually no one had a GPS until ten or fifteen years ago, and that before then, everyone was a human GPS. Or else they got lost a lot.

But today, as with creating documents, a person doesn’t need to have a great deal of knowledge in order to get from point A to point B. All he needs to do is listen to the talk-alike version of Hal 9000 in his GPS and he’s pretty certain to end up in the right place.

Genius-creating digital gadgets — tablets, smartphones, portable credit-card swipers, and tiny flash drives storing 256 gigabytes of information, among others — have brought a lot of equality to the game. Digital toys are fun to use, and they also speed up our business and personal lives and help keep our minds off the corruption in Washington and the overall devolution of Western civilization.

Harry Browne once said that when people say things like, “It’s ridiculous that we can go to the moon, but we can’t put an end to poverty,” they’re wrong. He further explained, “I don’t know how to fly to the moon. Only a handful of people know how to fly to the moon, but, one way or another, I can reap the benefits of their knowledge and skill.” Harry was right. Most of us are merely awe-struck bystanders of such accomplishments.

The point is that, when it comes to survival, the average person is at the mercy of those who possess high-level knowledge, because he can’t function without digital devices that do the heavy lifting for him. Unfortunately, when the power grid is taken out, he’s going to be in a heap of trouble — but that’s another discussion for another day.

In the meantime, keep in mind that digital devices can have either a positive or negative impact on your life, depending on how you choose to use them. A person can embrace modern technology for self-destructive purposes — e.g., watching rap-crap videos, pornography, or get-rich-quick webinars — or he can choose to use it in constructive ways, primarily obtaining valuable knowledge and enjoying quality entertainment.

But back to computers. As I said, I have a love-hate relationship with this paradoxical tool, and the number-one thing that concerns me is how easy computers make it for someone to invade my privacy. What’s especially unsettling about this problem is knowing that it’s only going to get worse.

I confess, I have a paranoia that Hal 9000 might be reading my lips someday and decide to terminate me. There’s nothing more scary than a sentient supercomputer.

Of course, if Hal could be taught to write my articles for me, that might temper my concerns about a lack of privacy. Hmm … let me chew on that for a while.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

18 responses to “Is Hal 9000 on the Way?”

  1. Avery Horton says:

    No computer can ever replace your wit and wisdom, Mr. Ringer!!

  2. Gary Waltrip says:

    Some people, like me, have a lousy sense of direction. I too won't venture far from home without my GPS. As far as computers are concerned, they are like a magic window on the world, a source of endless information on almost any subject, as well as books, movies, databases and photographs. I love my computer, and I am well over 60 years of age.

  3. RAM says:

    The name "HAL" came from IBM. "H" comes before "I" and "A" comes before "B" and "L" comes before "M." The genius behind it all came from humans. I don't worry about robots such as HAL doing what I do. I am concerned more about humans doing it poorly. RAM

    • CARA says:


      • Jay says:

        IBM made computers; The computers' name was HAL – H is before I, A is before B & L is before M.

        HAL is a male name and the computers voice was male.

  4. Jack says:

    I have a younger friend who was in the army and did a tour in Iraq, specifically he was in the engineering corps building bridges, something which is very dependent on location, etc. He also to this day cannot read a map. When I quizzed him about it he told me the army uses GPS to get around and map reading wasn't required! I can recall back in 70's they taught us about maps in basic training. Scary.

  5. Richard Lee Van says:

    Rap-Crap! Yes, that is what I have been calling "it" for a long time. A long time ago, I used to believe that the word CULTURE meant CLASSY. Now I know that there is Crap-Culture.The rap crap culture for example. And while the elite few soar intellectually, the great masses of society are sinking ever deeper in the muck of stupidity. The situation would not be so bad IF good, sound values prevailed, but somehow they have been perverted or lost. I don't mind that boring churches have lost their influence, but if they were part of the reason people had better values to guide them in the past, I lament their demise. If there are no parents to inculcate the young, and those who teach in schools and churches, how can the situation correct itself? Whenever the idea of re-living my past comes up, I say no thanks. I did my time, and it was sublime some of the time, but now my environment has turned to slime. So now some of us have to survive on islands of good experience.and hope that our spiritual beliefs lead us to a better Reality in that next phase of Life After Embodiment. And I am not talking about the mythic beliefs the church of my childhood taught. It would be better, I believe, if religion stuck to here on earth ETHICS. In any case, yes, High Tech is a mixed blessing! I certainly agree with Mr. Ringer. Year 2005, while "getting old" already, I too began to learn my wonderful computer. But when I see people everywhere, walking, dining, etc., with a small black box firmly in hand, I lament what they are missing regarding the creative play of the mind. I predict that the next crop of babies will be born with a third arm with a hand at the end of it to clutch a cell phone.

  6. Marte says:

    I had to laugh about your GPS remarks. In my neck of the woods GPS can take you straight to where you don't want to be. I've lost count of how many people have ended up at the locked gate in our our back meadow (after bumping along for miles on an overgrown logging road), wondering why the road stops there when GPS says it's the way to Priest Lake.

    Meanwhile, what ever happened to using good old paper maps? I don't own a GPS, but I do have maps – and they work!

    I share your love/hate relationship with computers. I couldn't do what I do without them, but there are days when they drive me wild.

  7. Phillip says:

    The genius of GPS comes from being able to put in your destination, some place you have never been, and be guided there through all the turns, one way streets, etc right up to the door to the parking garage. Further than that, as a safety device it keeps my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel. My 19 year old son, a new driver, had a speech to give in front of the capital building for the Fathers rights rally in DC. He had never driven out of our small town in Michigan. I have GPS and map in my Android phone and he got us their without any assistance from me. On top of that, he was able to discuss his speech with me on and off as he felt like it during the drive.

  8. joesugar says:

    I too have a love/hate relationship with computers. I love them for the speed and efficiency they offer me but despair when I run across people who have lost the ability to tell when the answer it gives them doesn't make sense. As I tell my wife, I may not know the right answer but I know that one's wrong. As for GPS, it's a great solution to the last mile problem. I can get to the city and even the neighborhood I need. Where I need help is finding that specific street and house in the neighborhood.

    • CARA says:


  9. RealitySeeker says:

    The uneducated Americans have no idea. Really…

    Hal is already here. You can say hi to Hal almost anywhere, and chances are he hears and sees you. And unless you write with, gasp!, an actual pen or use an obsolete typewriter, Hal reads and then stores everything. So, you have no secrets unless you live completely off of the grid. And even if you do write with a pen, off the grid, Hal has billions of eyes—everywhere— so there's little escape. Hal is a world wonder, like the Great Wall, Angkor Wat and the U.S. military. In fact, Hal is very, very patriotic, and he plays a key role in national offense, err, I mean defense. So impressive is Hal that the water cooling towers necessary to keep his brain from overheating are measured in city blocks the height of which is stories high.. There are so many fascinating facts about Hal, e.g., almost all of the satellites orbiting the earth are feeding Hal information 24/7. Hal can even read a license from space. And did you know Hal really likes that sexy Windows 8 —so much so the Chinese have outlawed it in government offices.

    Of course this is only the beginning: Uncle Sam is readying an army of mini-Hals. They plan to use them for almost anything and everything, even tasks that Orwell himself couldn't fathom. For example, Uncle Sam has granted a juicy sum of money to Yale so a robotic nanny can be developed and deployed to every household is America. Uncle Sam wants to take the pressure off of parents by providing them with a little helper. How nice! The nanny-bot is even going to be programmed to teach English. Thoughtful of dear Uncle, don't you think? Yes, mommy's little helper shall prove very useful to the millions of unskilled, welfare-seeking illegals who can't even articulate in their own language. Who need Grandpa Ringer around when he can be easily replaced with a shiny new government issued Grandpa who speaks 25 languages and teaches "the children" how to be good little citizens.

    Remember that slogan, " a chicken in every pot"! It's going to be repackaged as " a helper in every home".

  10. Serge says:

    My biggest hate of computers is that it's a lot like television and I find myself perpetuating to the next program or link. I've lost a lot of sleep and time because of computers and television. Unfortunately the time cannot be bought back.

  11. Jay says:

    In Open Sans Medium font, italicised words really need a space and a half after them.

  12. Kate says:

    Nice to have a GPS for backup but don't just think it will get you everywhere. In Maine could take you right across a lake that is a road in winter or bring you right up a snowmobile trail which is a road in summer but not in winter. And hearing from others, driving in a city like Boston with one won't get you where you want to be either. Plus, it usually takes you way out of your way so that your trip takes longer. I say google for directions and then turn on the GPS and see if its going the way you really want it to go. Personally I think computers are sucking the brains right out of everyone. If you don't use it, you lose it! and that's with every aspect of the human body not just the brain. My mom was a phone addict long b4 cell phones – used to say to her that it was attached to her arm and now they are attached to everyone's arms! didn't like it when mom did it, don't like it now. Manners people, put the phones away when you are with people – converse with the people who wanted to be with you in person not the ones you barely know on FB! Converse with your kids too!

  13. Joe Lumbley says:

    I'm an old sci-fi fan and have been for almost 60 years. Look at your smartphone and see how it alone has made a lot of sci-fi into everyday reality. Dick Tracy wrist communicator. Eidetic memory. Instant ability to communicate with anyone in the world (telepathy with a little bit of technical help). Talking computers. Ability to remote-control almost anything (mechanically assisted telekinesis).

  14. DGMH says:

    For me, iPad and iPhone have replaced GPSs and computers (except for my company laptop). The problem Marte brings up regarding GPS errant directions is avoided with smart phone maps with hybrid satellite images. And apps are much more user-friendly, easier to download (load), and easier to use (and cheaper!) than computer programs.

  15. Ellis Baxter says:

    I use a $10.00 phone but have 5 cameras, 5 Tablets, and a half dozen computers. I also have a compass. GPS technology is not always right but if you know how to use it a compass is. I doubt that there will ever come a time that when Knowledge is not a part of all of these items. FYI I like LPs over digital playback of music. However as an LP has 23% more information than any digital media, you do have to have the knowledge of how to care for LPs … again Knowledge plays a role. Some things are more interesting than others. In honor of RR I started with a Tortoise and a Rabbit now I have two Tortoise and 3 Rabbits ! …..They are more interesting than the computers ..