HAL’s Ancestors are Fighting in Afghanistan

Similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s caveman throwing a stick in the air that instantaneously morphed into a spacecraft; the evolution of our robotic creations is moving at warp speed. There is a marked parallel between robot technology and the biological intelligence that preceded it. The creator is duplicating its own evolution with each new advancement in artificial intelligence.

So it doesn’t take a leap of logic, to ask the question if HAL’s great, great grand-daddy is currently functioning in today’s world? Because, guess what, he is! He is alive and well and fighting our current war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is building a series of air bases in eastern Afghanistan that will house drone aircraft to spy on and attack Taliban insurgents. That’s right the UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is HAL’s ancestor.

HAL's great, great, grand-daddyHAL's great, great, grand-daddy

It’s a tireless fighting machine that is operated remotely by pilots in the US. HAL’s great, great grand-daddy has since spawned several offspring drones that currently make up the U.S. arsenal—the Hunter, the Predator and the Global Hawk! All of these pilotless aerial vehicles that can hover in the sky for several hours and digitally transmit high-resolution, real-time images of the terrain below. U.S. commanders can then view these images, back at headquarters in Washington, D.C. In Afghanistan, when the drones' tell the U.S. the precise location of a target, human pilots then program the coordinates into their smart bombs, fly to the area, and drop the bombs. The average time between spotting the target and dropping the bomb is about 20 minutes. HAL can be proud that is forbearers were not only precise… they were also Johnny-on-the-spot quick!

So how will evolution play out for HAL’s future line of descendents? Many believe the next step is to have autonomous robots on the battlefield that will act logically and won't be swayed by vengeance or ruled by sadism, similar to RoboCop!


Robots can behave more ethically and intelligently on the battlefield. A soldier that witnessed the killing of his buddies may lash out in anger and kill everyone in a village including the elderly and the children. But a robot machine or soldier would be programmed to kill only enemy combatants. And the after-effect would leave them with no post-traumatic symptoms!

On the other hand, others believe that it is us humans who will evolve into an advanced for formed of robot. Human intelligence may eventually be able to escape its entrapment from its mortal bodies and move into robotic shells that will be able to retain our consciousness, brain power and previous identities.

Could this be that far into the future? While our nervous systems have doubled in size every fifteen million years, our robot creations have doubled in complexity (processing power) every year or two. They are now at the vertebrate complexity stage, but according to Hans Moravec, a noted pioneer in robot research and founder of the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotic Institute, they should catch up with humans, within a half century.


Robotic HandRobotic Hand

However, if we are not unable to make the leap from human-to-robot transformation, and robots continue to develop at warp speed, then what happens when robots become superior to their creators? Will they still be subservient to us, or will the popular “robot takeover” of sci-fi movies become a reality?

When Steven Spielberg’s movie Artificial Intelligence talks about the moral responsibility we will have for the intelligent robots that we will someday create, we need to ask the question: what kind of qualities would a robot require before we recognize our moral responsibility towards it?

AI, Artificial Intelligence, the movieAI, Artificial Intelligence, the movie

And when Will Smith fights off a whole civilization of robots in iRobot is this a prophetic warning or future glimpse as to how creator is outdone by its creation.

iRobot, the movieiRobot, the movie


Which brings us up to the point when HAL might actually enter our lives? Since Arthur Clarke was wrong about the 2001 date, HAL is still a little ways off from controlling our space ships and potentially our lives. However, it is perhaps prudent to take heed and realize that with each and every new advancement made, whether it is the atom bomb, stem cell research or robotic engineering, we should think seriously about the repercussions, before our creations start thinking about them for us.

HAL 9000, "Hello Dave"HAL 9000, "Hello Dave"

After all, the last thing we want to hear when turning off one of our electronic devices is the voice of HAL dictating to us : “Now Dave, I know you are planning to disconnect me, and that’s something I cannot allow to happen!”

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Dec 17, 2008
by John P. Barker
John P. Barker's picture


Great article.  Just having Robocop in it made my morning...

Dec 17, 2008
by Anonymous

HAL's Ancestors

The number of HALs in Afghanistan is about to be increased greatly and will result in more civilian "accidental" deaths and the resulting increase in recruitment of previously uninvolved young men,"Taliban". HAL cannot and never will be able to determine the difference between the local people and the "enemy combatants"...many of whom are the local people. And some will also be the "elderly" who previously fought the Soviets...and some will be "children". The increase of HALs will reduce our military casualties but increase both involved and uninvolved civilian casualties. The article was interesting and as noted above, fun but unrelated to the reality in Afghanistan. Dick Scott

Dec 18, 2008
by Anonymous

HAL’s Ancestors are Fighting in Afghanistan

What about getting into wars in the first place? Reagan fed an insurgency of extremists in order to embarass the Soviet Union, this led to the current war. Don't support extremists and you will not have to fight them.

The whole philosophy of "no body bags seems appealing. It will save lives. No it won't, it will simply lead to more war.