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The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection

by David F. Dufty

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9551-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

The story of the roboticists who created a fully functioning android replica of renowned writer Philip K. Dick.

Dufty was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Memphis when he was introduced to a group of doctorate students and researchers working on an unusual project in artificial intelligence and robotics: creating an android to look, sound and act exactly like Dick. Now a senior research officer at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the author follows the story of the android’s creation, from how it began as separate software and robotic projects, to its untimely finish when it was lost in transit by an airline, never to be seen again. Physically, the android had cameras and microphones for its eyes and ears, inside a molded skeleton covered with tiny gears (to emulate speech and facial expressions). Its skin was made of Frubber—a lightweight, pliant plastic—sculpted into the living image of the author. Inside the android’s head was a powerful computer system that could process audio and visual input and then formulate spoken responses based on Dick’s writing and interviews he gave throughout his life. Much of the book centers on the development of the android itself, a highly technical story that Dufty manages to make intriguing and accessible to less tech-savvy readers, but he often gets sidetracked by other ideas or stories. Some digressions are relevant and interesting—e.g., the section on the Turing test, which examines a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior and addresses the question of whether the Philip K. Dick replica could actually think for itself. Other anecdotes, however—e.g., a tedious description of the difficulties the robotics team had renting a truck to move the android and its accouterments—slow the narrative momentum.

A fascinating story unevenly told.