BEELINE TO THE FUTURE: The Replicant of Philip K. Dick and Other Links

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

We are starting to enter the age of the replicant. Singularity Hub, which is a great website for science fictional topics, posted a link to a very interesting replicant video. Three people with android versions of themselves got together for a press conference. Click through and play the video of the remarkably life-like robots. The robots are humanoid and eerie; in fact, the Japanese robot looks more realistic than its human original.

We are starting to approach the uncanny valley. The most recent of the three robots is much more life-like than the earliest of the three, so in just a few months the manufacturers have made enormous progress in creating life-like robots (http://singularityhub.com/2011/04/06/robot-replicants-gather-with-their-...).

Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite SF writers, and his after life and critical reputation just keeps growing. I think he would be fascinated that someone has made a Dick replicant (http://www.pkdandroid.org/). Dick’s replicant spouts comments supposedly typical of the author. I would love to have a replicant of Dick and Marshall McLuhan in my living room, and get the two of them to spin aphorisms off one another.

The PKD replicant is a life-sized reproduction using the latest AI, robotics, and a skin-like substance that David Hanson, the creator, calls “frubber.” The robot has a camera in its eye and scans the room looking for faces. It has the rudimentary ability to respond to questions with various phrases and quotes. There’s a Youtube video on the site that shows the android in action (http://news.pkdandroid.org/date/2009/05/). The head of PKD’s replicant disappeared off a commercial airliner and was never found (and, no, I’m not making this up). David Hanson stored the android’s head in the luggage department of an airplane and forgot it. A radio play “Bring Me the Head of Philip K. Dick” was aired on the BBC based on the story of the disappearing head.

The robot has been rebuilt, now known as “New Phil.” “Old Phil” has escaped; he is a free android, and so far the blade runners have not located him. New Phil is more advanced than the old version, but presumably does not have consciousness. I look forward to a future version of the android that actually thinks he’s the real Philip K. Dick and starts writing novels about the impossibility of distinguishing between replicants and humans.

One final PKD link that might interest Republibot readers is the PKD festival, which held its first meeting in August 2010 in Colorado and will meet again in 2012 in San Francisco (http://www.philipkdickfestival.com/index.html). David Gill wrote a review of the first PKD festival that makes me wish I had attended (http://io9.com/5618047/searching-for-reality-at-the-philip-k-dick-festival): “Last weekend, hardcore Philip K. Dick fans trekked to the high Rocky Mountains for a festival of Dickian dimensions. There were Dick scholars, biker bars, library lectures, Techgnostic side-trips with Erik Davis, and an epic, weekend-long attempt to define reality.” Gill’s article describes his experiences at the festival as a descent (ascent?) into Dick’s worldview. Gill maintains an interesting blog “Total Dick-head,” which I recommend (http://totaldickhead.blogspot.com/). Gill wrote a rather negative response to my article on Dick in The Internet Review of Science Fiction, “An Alien God and a Jungian Allegory,” so we disagree in our interpretations of PKD, but his blog is still worth checking out.

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Robert Bee is a freelance writer and a professional librarian living in New Jersey. He can be reached at Rightrob@Republibot.com

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