Does an Android Phone in ‘sleep mode’ Daydream of Electric Sheep?

This is a two-part post, broken into an appetizer and main course.

lost-in-transit-the-strange-story-of-the-philip-k-dick-android-the-strange-story-of-the-philip-k-dick-android-copyTHE APPETIZER:

In coming up with a title for this post, I was surfing around the internet to see what sort of connections I could make. It’s a play on the title of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I love a good title parody, and the Android phone was just too irresistible. So I dug around a little and the Android phone has a ‘Daydream’ mode, which offers screen-savers they call ‘Electric Sheep.’ This tickled me. Like the translation website named ‘Babelfish‘ after the odd creature in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers books. Nice to see PKD getting a little more recognition, and a little tip of the hat from the makers of the Android.

further reading:


My reverence and admiration for the writing of Philip K Dick is no secret to anyone who knows me or has read two of my blog posts. He was writing about androids and artificial intelligence as far back as the 1950s, and many in the robotics field cite him as an influence and catalyst for the industry.

In 2005, an android was built in Dick’s likeness. It was intended to showcase the advances that have been made in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. A giant digital brain was installed on a very realistic looking head, and the machine was programmed to emulate the personality of the famed science fiction writer.

Presentations were made, the robot became pretty well-traveled as it was carted around the country to appear at events and to assist in the publicity of some of the films being adapted from Dick’s books.

And then, it disappeared.

I believe it was last seen when it was being shipped across the country for some affair, and the android was lost in transit. Never to be seen again.

I had an idea for a short story that followed the Android Dick after it (not he) went missing, I have a little tale brewing that will pop out of me when it is done, and some of the particulars are making me giddy.

Before I proceed I want to point out my intent in asking the question. I’ve asked this question in some of my writing groups, and I have been misunderstood. This is a philosophical question.  

I am not asking for anyone’s permission or approval, this is purely an abstract mental exercise, a fascinating murky area of ethics and intellectual property law. If I were to proceed with this story, I would seek the blessing from the family and Hanson Robotics, who assembled the android.

I am not asking anyone for a solid answer, I am only asking you to think.

I know if I were writing about a public figure, if I made them the main character of my book, I would have to get permission from the author or the estate to use the likeness, or I could risk a defamation lawsuit.

But what if I were writing about the android?

It is not human, it is not even alive, really, by any current definition of the word. So on the surface, no, it doesn’t have the same rights and protections that the human being would. On the other hand, this particular simulacrum was constructed and programmed in the likeness of a real human being.

So, say I put something terrible in the story, turned the robot into a monster and have him commit some terrible acts. Who would sue me for slander? The author’s estate? Or the folks who built the android? Does a replicant fashioned after an actual person have the same rights to privacy as the person it was fashioned after?

I don’t have an answer, I don’t expect anyone to provide anything solid. I don’t think this is something we have yet covered in intellectual property law, but I find it a fascinating subject to ponder. And I think it is something we will eventually have to address as artificial intelligence grows more ‘human,’ and the shells they are put into become less distinguishable from actual flesh.

What rights does Watson have?  The computerized Jeopardy Champion. Could it (again, not he, I had to change it myself this time) bring a case against someone who it felt had tarnished its name.

Can an android, an artificial intelligence, or the company that built and owns it,  sue someone for defamation, for spreading rumors and misrepresenting its likeness? Or would it be the author’s estate? Could they bring action against me for slandering the android, and by extension slandering the human that this machine was constructed to mimic?

It’s a fascinating thought to me, I don’t have any solid answers. The questions, on the other hand, keep multiplying and expanding in my head.

further reading…

VIDEO: The Philip K. Dick Android:

Robot Goes Missing:…


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