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Talking to Master Replicas’ Hal 9000 smart speaker sent chills down my spine

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Hands-on at New York Comic Con

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Even with the background hum of New York Comic Con all around us, the iconic voice of Hal 9000 — the sentient computer from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey — made me intensely nervous as its red eye stares back from Master Replicas’ booth on the convention floor.

Steve Dymszo, CEO for the prop-making company, leans in to speak over the noise of the crowd. “What’s the problem?”

“I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do,” Hal responds. Dymszo gestures to the device. “You can go on and on with the rest of the sequence.”

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Announced earlier this year in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the iconic film’s release, the speaker system is an impeccable replica of the artificial intelligence’s hardware. It’s large, designed to be mounted on the wall, with Hal’s uncanny eye staring back at us. On the left is a series of buttons and screens that show off reproductions of screens from the film, showing off maps and docking sequences.

While it’s one thing to see the images released thus far of the prop device, it’s altogether another thing to have it parrot back the lines to you in that menacing voice, or to show off the sequence in which the AI kills off its human crewmates.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The product is designed as a home device that’s both prop replica and Bluetooth speaker system. Dymszo notes that while the system utilizes Alexa, it’s only able to parrot back the lines of the film; Amazon’s assistant hasn’t taken on the guise of its futuristic counterpart. But that could come someday down the line, and the device could be updated when that day comes.

The device on display at NYCC this weekend is the Command Console, and it includes the interactive screen. The company is only producing 2,001 models, and Dymszo notes that they’ve sold around 1,700 thus far. You can buy the removable Bluetooth speaker component — the tall rectangle with the eye mounted in the center — as a standalone device that you can pair your phone with, although that model doesn’t come with the interactive element. Even without it, having that red eye stare back at you is really something: and physically, it’s a far more interesting to look at than Amazon’s Echo Dot or Google’s Home. Mounting one on your wall would essentially be like having an Easter egg in your own home.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The company launched preorders for the device earlier this summer on Indiegogo (that campaign has since ended, but preorders have shifted to the company’s website) and Dymszo says that the device is currently being manufactured in China, and should be available in January 2019.