THE death, less than a week later, of Philip Roth rather eclipsed the passing of Tom Wolfe, definer of the New Journalism of the 20th century and a writer arguably just as entitled to be seen as the Voice of America, even if he is less likely to be mentioned in the cannon of Great American Novelists.

Roth’s narrative voice was that of fictional characters Alexander Portnoy and Nathan Zuckerman, while Wolfe was a very prescient commentator on the nature of the voice telling the story of American lives in real time. If the conviction of white male superiority that fuels The Bonfire of the Vanities is still burning in the stories from the US in today’s news, the tone in which those stories are told was memorably pinned down in his earlier book, The Right Stuff, which made a compelling narrative of the lives of the men recruited by Nasa to staff the space race.

US Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager – who is still going strong at 95 – “broke the sound barrier” in the proto-spacecraft rocket-powered Bell X-1, and his voice, Wolfe claimed in 1979, could be heard on airlines around the world because the reassuring style of his laid-back Southern drawl was copied in the delivery of every cockpit announcement made to nervous fliers ever since. The way that the unflappable Yeager spoke to the control tower became the model for sonic trustworthiness the world over, discernible in TV news anchors as much as in jumbo jet pilots.

As Wolfe and Roth were being obituarised, another US story caught the ear. In a tale as full of double entendre as a Frankie Howerd monologue, it was reported that a couple in Portland, Oregon discovered that their Amazon Echo house robot had recorded their conversation and emailed it to random contacts in their internet address book. Fortunately – and this was the punchline – they had “only” been talking about “hardwood flooring”, although a first listen might obviously have led recipients to prick up their lugholes.

Imagine Amazon’s Alexa defending herself against this accusation of insubordinate behaviour, and you are instantly in the realm of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that is 50 years old and has just begun a run of anniversary screenings in a digitally-restored edition at Glasgow Film Theatre.

Although Alexa and Apple’s Siri, the virtual assistant on the iPhone, are female, they share a style of delivery that mixes deference and detachment, somewhere between domestic help and the psychiatrist’s couch, pioneered by HAL 9000, the computer that locks horns with astronaut Dave Bowman.

The voice of HAL, as much a defining feature of that movie masterpiece as the music of Strauss and Ligeti, was added by Kubrick very late in post-production, with Canadian actor Douglas Rain drafted in during the editing process, initially as narrator – an idea the director, thankfully, ditched. Although it was his voice-over work that brought him to the attention of Kubrick, Winnipeg-born Rain, also still with us in his 90s, is a distinguished Shakespearean from Ontario’s Stratford Festival, with Macbeth and King Lear among the many roles on his CV Kubrick apparently thought his accent “mid-Atlantic”, but it is unmistakeably Canadian, often also a characteristic of news presenters trusted by Americans who can be judgemental of fellow citizens who sound identifiably not from their own state in the US.

Rain recorded his lines in London in a couple of days at the end of 1967 and, it is said, has never seen the film. But if the Yeager template set the tone for reassurance in the modern world, he may well have defined sociopathic menace. Alexa, do you know what the problem is just as well I as do?