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  • The implications of artificial humans, as seen by Philip Dick (Final Draft) Philip K Dick was one of the most influential science fiction writers of the twentieth century. His revolutionary, dystopian visions of the future are both alien and creepily believable, and have shaped the popular image of the grungy, harsh, unloving future embodied in such films as Star Wars, Blade Runner, and The Matrix. Over the last few decades, Dick’s stories have been becoming increasingly relevant and popular as technology has settled itself into our lives and brought with it a slew of moral and social issues. Over the next decades we will increasingly be confronted with the same decisions and dilemmas as Dick’s characters. In his novels and short stories Philip Dick creates boring, unimaginative, obedient, but slightly loving human characters to contrast with passionate, smart, and desperate artificial or alien intelligences, and then blurs the line between the two types to demonstrate the frailty of the human spirit and the potential of machine intelligence. His repetitive use of human-like androids, emotional machines, mentally unstable humans, and humans and machines in conflict has defined his style by creating an aura of fear, paranoia, and general unsettlement. The idea that machines could replace humans in day-to-day life is disturbing yet simultaneously thrilling and compelling. While other authors, notably Isaac Asimov, have written about androids and artificial humans, none have captured the emotional and moral issues tied to such a machine. Asimov looks at the issues of human-robot interactions in I, Robot and a number of other short stories, but he does so as a scientist. His human characters are sterile and observant, but still much more human than the robots. His robots realize that they are not human and deal with this reality maturely but with regret. Dick’s robots are desperate and wild. Like mad men they struggle to survive, to the very end. A contemporary parallel is cloning. Asimov would have described this technological miracle as a fantastic accomplishment of the world’s best and brightest whose moral implications are handled by an international body. Dick would describe the cloning issue in a way much closer to how it is, with renegade cults claiming the first cloned babies, politicians waffling on the issue, and overall confusion and chaos ruling. In general Dick portrays the future in very human, understandable ways. Dick’s stories are really just vessels for his prophesies, warnings, and visions of the future. As Patricia Warrick describes it, “Dick’s technique here is first to create a metaphor – automated factories behave as if they were alive – and then to create a fictional world where the metaphor is literally true.” (Warrick, Philip K Dick, 190). Instead of his stories being filled with dilemmas and robots, his imaginary dilemmas and robots have interesting stories and situations wrapped around them. The joy of reading Dick is not just the excitement of being transported to another world, but appreciating the possibility and genius of the worlds themselves. He does not have to develop his characters (in fact, he rarely bothers) because the situations he places them in are so relatable and familiar on their own. In this way his novels often resemble extended short stories: the emphasis is on describing the situation and issues – revelations and background are more important than the character’s motivations. And the most important
  • part of any of Dick’s tales is the questions he leaves to the reader- often in the last page or two. It is impossible to discuss Dick’s writing without mentioning his mental state. As his writing career progressed, Dick’s instabilities began to have a greater effect. He publicly acknowledged that LSD and other drugs had a huge affect on his writings. Some of his crazier and less lucid novels, like Valis, were based on his personal hallucinations and beliefs about religion and society. It is very easy to see how many of his paranoid stories are in fact metaphors for his own fears and distrust of society and authority. But as we have seen in recent years, it often takes somebody whose view of the world seems profoundly mad for us to observe ourselves sanely. Some of the greatest modern anthropologists are completely autistic, but instead of warping their perspective, this gives them an unhindered viewpoint on society. One of Dick’s trademark story telling devices is misleading the reader about the humanity of his characters. In stories like “Second Variety”, the entire story arc is based on the fact that we don’t know which of the major characters is human and which is machine. Another example is Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, in which a human investigator hunts down artificial replicants who are trying to hide and survive illegally on earth. These stories question human nature and our ability to tolerate and accept differences. The general conclusion that Dick draws is that humans are bigoted and unable to respect and coexist with different life forms, even man-made ones. Certainly the replicants, androids, robots, and artificial life forms display a level of intelligence, wisdom, and most importantly human weakness to be considered intellectual peers of the often brutish or mechanically conformist humans. As the characters at the end of Vulcan’s Hammer put it: “They played us off against one another, like inanimate pieces. The things became alive and the living organisms were reduced to things. Everything was turned inside out, like some terrible morbid view of reality.” (Dick, 14) One of the things Dick is trying to show is that potentially there really isn’t much of a difference between humans and artificial humans. The inventor of the modern calculating machine, Alan Turing, invented a test to determine if a true artificial intelligence has been created: if a human judge can not accurately distinguish between a real human and an artificial candidate, then that candidate is just as good as human. Most of Dick’s machines would pass this test with flying colors. Dick even hypothesizes about potential human/machine tests. In Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, the main character is a detective who specializes in hunting down rogue androids on Earth. As increasingly intelligent androids are developed, the police need increasingly sophisticated tests to catch rogues and to prove the innocence of real humans. The protagonist is faced with a new generation of androids who pass all previous tests, and he must use an advanced “Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test” to determine a being’s humanity. The test measures the subject’s response to stories and images of humans and animals in distress. Supposedly a real human would instantly react empathetically to - for example - a turtle flipped over on it’s back in the sun faster than an android could synthesize an emotional reaction. This is the classical philosophy about artificial intelligence: what separates humans from machine thinking is our emotions and empathy.
  • One way in which Dick’s human characters do show some humanity is in their occasional self-consciousness. At some point or another, they usually realize how little separates them from their mechanical competitors, and are shocked or devastated by this revelation. This is where Dick vicariously comes through in his novels to tell us that we really are very similar to our creations. Perhaps reflecting his own distrust of his human brain, Dick’s human characters are often irrational and paranoid. They are fearful and hostile towards life forms not like them, either artificial or organic. Androids and robots in general are hated and mistreated by humanity, which feels threatened by the technologically advanced machines. This is the dynamic that most science fiction storytellers describe: humanity rebelling against its own creations, persecuting and destroying anything that threatens its evolutionary superiority. Movie makers like Spielberg (AI) and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix Trilogy, The Animatrix) tell stories of epic human/android conflicts, where humans become paranoid and suspicious of artificial life and try to destroy it. In AI the robots accept this fate passively with an almost zen calmness, but in the Matrix and many other sci-fi battles of man versus machine, the robots stand up and fight back. In many stories, like “Second Variety”, the androids are just agents and pawns used in a larger scale conflict between two militant groups. The androids are used by one side to impersonate members of the other side for the purpose of infiltration and betrayal. Dick was probably making a social commentary about mindless military organizations meddling in forbidden technology to the detriment of all of humanity: after all, he lived through the Cold War and nuclear arms race, and had a very anti-government stance. Dick is warning us, as he often does, that short sighted development of technology can be potentially catastrophic, even to the extreme of the destruction of the human race. Almost every science fiction story ends up having some sort of all-powerful weapon or instrument of mass power that can be used for evil. Increasingly, the lessons of these weapons are becoming relevant. In today’s world in which weapons of mass destruction are wielded by superpowers to the terror of the entire world - weapons so powerful that they dictate pretty much all of the world’s foreign policy - we could learn something from these stories of Death Stars and nuclear cyborgs. Ronald Regan’s satellite anti- ballistic missile program was called Star Wars: could an android army be that far off? More recently, George Lucas has included robotic and clone armies in his films. As the military develops and deploys more and more robotic and automated weaponry, and the scientific community declares that human cloning is not only possible but has probably already happened, the issues raised in science fiction become more and more contemporary and urgent. On the other hand, the human race has never let fear of technology stop it, for better or worse. During the Manhattan Project, there was concern that a nuclear explosion could ignite the entire atmosphere: the project, and the explosions, went on. Just a few years ago there was concern that a particle accelerator experiment could yield a new elementary particle that could destroy the entire earth and the solar system. The experiment went on. Right now there is concern that nanotechnology could result in self- replicating goo that devours all the matter on earth, but we are heedlessly developing that technology. Scientists and programmers are working right now on next generation
  • computer systems in the military and civilian sectors which will link together networks to yield unprecedented processing power. Perhaps people should be worrying more about the possibility of an artificial intelligence developing on these networks. With our track record of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, anthrax, prevalent hacking on the internet, and massive power grid failures, it could be only a matter of time before Dick’s nightmares are realized and we are over run by androids. Another interesting situation that Dick raises is that sometimes his artificial machines don’t even know that they are artificial, or similarly, the human characters can’t quite be sure of their own humanity. This is best demonstrated in Do Androids Dream, when the human protagonist questions his humanity. This questioning of our environment and minds falls in a large, ages old category of philosophical thought. Humans have always pondered if we might all just be the figment of some other being’s imagination, or perhaps that our entire world is just part of some higher being’s dream (or nightmare). The Matrix brought the technical possibility of this kind of existence to the mainstream. The concept that we are not actually who or what we think we are, living in the environment we think we do, is almost always presented as a horrible scenario, even though it could be a blessing. In We Can Build You, the two main characters discuss the idea of Tuck Everlasting-like immortality as being a mixed blessing: “Do you think that someday somebody will make a simulacrum of you and me? And we’ll have to come back to life?” “What a morbid thought.” “There we’ll be, dead and oblivious to everything… and then we’ll feel something stirring. Maybe see a snatch of light. And then it’ll all come flooding in on us, reality once more. We’ll be helpless to stop the process, we’ll have to come back. Resurrected!” She shuddered. (Dick, We Can Build You, 66) The possible benefits of living in a faux world - or as a faux person – are commonly disregarded. There is something sacred about authenticity and nature that reassures us: no mater what happens, and no mater how inhuman we may act, ultimately we are only human beings – a status which both excuses us our errors (“To err is humane”) and gives us an intuitive and emotional superiority over artificial replacements. Dick describes this superiority of the natural metaphorically in Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep. In this world, some of the greatest status symbols are legitimate animals. In a world devastated by war, with the majority of species extinct, the remaining animals are rare and valuable. They are collected and traded, with market values tracked. One of Rick’s (the protagonist) biggest shames is that his pet sheep is actually an artificial. He keeps this fact secret and it is admired by his neighbors, but he longs for a real pet. At the end of the book he believes that he has found a toad- an impossibly valuable find, as that species has gone extinct. His find gives him newfound hope and optimism, but ultimately he discovers that it is only an artificial. The artificial animals are identical in almost every way to real animals. By design they require the same care, feeding, and cleaning as a regular animal, and they are expensive, just not to the degree of a real animal. In the end, soon after terminating his last replicant, Rick decides to keep his artificial toad. Rick feels a moral superiority to the androids in
  • keeping the toad: “And no android, he thought, will cut the legs from this. As they did from the [idiot's] spider.” (Dick, 112). Dick is telling us that what separates us from artificial intelligence is our empathy and love for life. To stay human we must love and accept even artificial life, or we are nothing more than machines ourselves. As artificial intelligence comes closer to human intelligence, the gap can be further shortened by our definition of human intelligence. Certain mentally challenged minds are much closer to contemporary artificial intelligence than the general population. In the opposite direction, many of the human intelligence ideals, such as great artists, writers, or thinkers, are beyond the general population. Ironically, while artists and musicians posses talents beyond those of most humans, their talents are easily replicated by artificial intelligences. Composition software decades old can emulate great human composers or produce their own works, and other robots and intelligences have been developed to paint. The works of these machine thinkers certainly compares with those of young children or retarded adults. So if the definition of human value is our minds, and artificial intelligence can approach the capabilities of some human minds, does that not make them as good as human? Must they exceed the capabilities of the entire human race to be recognized as equal? And if we do not accept artificial intelligence as equal, should we accept humans who resemble artificial intelligence? Dick ponders this very question in Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep: The Nexus-6 android types, Rick reflected, surpassed several classes of human specials in terms of intelligence. In other words, androids equipped with the new Nexus-6 brain unit had from a sort of rough, pragmatic, no-nonsense standpoint evolved beyond a major — but inferior — segment of mankind. For better or worse. The servant had in some cases become more adroit than its master. (Dick, Androids, 16) The “specials” referenced are a large group of humans living on earth who are either mentally or physically “inferior”, due to large scale radiation and mutations. The government tests and classifies citizens as “specials” through intelligence tests. Dick presents other human minds as similar to machines: “The schizoid, designed by Dick as an android-like personality unable to respond with feelings” (Warrick, Philip K Dick, 200) David Brin captured the practical question of intelligences spawning other intelligences in his book Sundiver. In that story, every intelligent species in the universe has it’s place in a cascading hierarchy, where each species has a master species which parented it and educated it into full intelligence. Dick and other authors often do not approach this question: if a form of intelligence owes it’s entire existence to another form of intelligence, how does that affect their relationship? Is it understandable that the developed race be subservient and grateful to their creators? Is it ok for the creator to take advantage of and use the developed race for it’s own purposes? Is the developed race necessarily more or less advanced? Could it indeed be an evolution and improvement upon the older race? How far does equality stretch? In The Matrix, there is a very memorable scene in which a software “agent” tells a human captive that the artificial intelligence that has come to rule the planet is evolutionarily superior. He describes
  • humans as a “cancer” on the earth, and the machines as the “cure.” Whether or not humans will one day become extinct and obsolete to their own creations, there is one advantage and strength that we will always have over our artificial creations: we came first, and we had the power, intelligence, and skill to create another form of intelligence. And can an artificial intelligence be described as superior to the human mind if it was the human mind that conceived and created it? Philip Dick’s writings have inspired decades of writers, stories, discussion, and thought. The issues of artificial life and intelligence are ones which will become more and more relevant in coming years, and he has already done a good job charting the philosophical and moral territory, as well as the emotional one. His use of technology in his stories made for unique plot twists and situations at the time, but now we are facing those same situations in real life. We can learn a lot from his stories and characters, because Dick accurately portrayed the reactions and motivations of his characters environments and times that most people have trouble understanding, let alone conceive of living in.
  • Bryan Newbold Bibliography (Philip Dick and Artificial Intelligence) Primary Sources: Dick, Philip. Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?. New York: Ballantine Books. 1968. Dick, Philip. Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Ed. Patricia Warrick, Martin Greenburg, Philip Dick, Martin Harry Greenberg. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. Dick, Philip. Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002. Dick, Philip. We Can Build You. New York: Vintage Books, 1994 Dick, Philip. Valis. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Secondary Sources: Abrash, Merritt. “’Man Everywhere in Chains’: Dick, Rousseau, and The Ultimate Truth”, Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations. Ed. Samuel Umland. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995 Mackey, Douglas A.. Philip K. Dick. Boston: Twayne, 1988 On Philip K. Dick: 40 Articles from Science-Fiction Studies. Ed. R.D. Mullen. Terre Haute, IN.: SF-TH Inc., 1992 Philip K. Dick. Ed. Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1983 Rebecca Umland. “Unrequited Love in We Can Build You”, Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations. Ed. Samuel Umland. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995 Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1984