The Story of a Voice: HAL in ‘2001’ Wasn’t Always So Eerily Calm

How a Canadian became the voice of AI

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The veteran Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain replaced the Oscar winner Martin Balsam, setting the standard for how artificial intelligence sounds. Kubrick was attracted to Mr. Rain for the role partly because the actor “had the kind of bl...

The veteran Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain replaced the Oscar winner Martin Balsam, setting the standard for how artificial intelligence sounds.

Kubrick was attracted to Mr. Rain for the role partly because the actor “had the kind of bland mid-Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part,” he said in the 1969 interview with Mr. Gelmis. But Mr. Rain’s accent isn’t mid-Atlantic at all; it’s Standard Canadian English.

University of Toronto linguistics professor Jack Chambers explained: “You have to have a computer that sounds like he’s from nowhere, or, rather, from no specific place. Standard Canadian English sounds ‘normal’ — that’s why Canadians are well received in the United States as anchormen and reporters because the vowels don’t give away the region they come from.”

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