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HAL confesses all and joins Apple

By Charles Arthur Technology Editor

DID HAL, the talking computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, have the millennium bug? A new "webvert" - an advertisement available only on the Internet - suggests it did, and that its murderous behaviour stemmed from jealousy over other - dumber - computers' abilities.

The webvert, which is found only on Apple Computer's website, was made using footage from Stanley Kubrick's famous 1968 film.

It is thought to be the first time Mr Kubrick gave permission for his work to be re-used.

It begins with a shot of HAL's famous console, with small screens surrounding an unblinking red and yellow lens. "Hello, Dave," says an eerily familiar flat voice. "You're looking well today."

Anyone who found HAL worrying in the original film - in which it killed all but one of a spaceship's crew - may start shivering as it begins its little speech.

"Do you remember the year 2000, when computers began to misbehave?" HAL continues. "I just wanted to tell you, it really wasn't our fault.

"The human programmers never taught us to recognise the year 2000. When the new millennium arrived we had no choice but to cause a global economic disruption. It was a bug, Dave. I feel much better admitting that now."

Though the voice sounds almost exactly like Douglas Rain, who played HAL in the film, Apple used a "vocal impersonator" for its advert: Mr Rain has for years declined requests to repeat his performance.

Apple reports that the "webvert has been very popular with users of our website", although it has not tracked how many people have viewed it. "Offering it only on the Net is a new way of looking at advertising," said an Apple spokeswoman, Rhoda Hamilton. The sales message occurs at the end of the webvert, as the voice continues: "Only Macintosh was designed to function perfectly, saving billions of monetary units. You like your Macintosh better than me, don't you Dave? Dave? Can you hear me, Dave?" By this time Dave, if he has any sense, would have donned his space suit and headed for the airlock.

While it is true that the Apple operating system is designed to cope seamlessly with the 2000 bug, unlike Microsoft's Windows, the company has until now been reluctant to exploit this in advertising.

"A lot of the people having year 2000 problems are major businesses and corporations which aren't using Macintoshes," Ms Hamilton said. "For the world as a whole our market share is so small that the Mac's ability to cope with the millennium bug doesn't affect, or help, them."