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:…



etymologyI thought I was in love, but it was only a head cold. I’ve been awake for three days with my skin feeling like it’s dried out and constricting against my bones.

I sometimes forget that I’m not a turtle anymore. I try to retract into my shell, but end up making a generic mess of myself.

Standing somewhere looking incredibly stupid and uncool, I suddenly realize where I am and who I am, it’s some time in the last parts of the twentieth century and I am one of those goofy Humans that seem to be all the fashion these days.

I spent much of my time at the end of a counter taking coffee and conversation with a number of different humans, many of them miserable.

The girl who sites at the other end of the counter, blowing long graven rings of cigarette smoke over her coffee, “My car broke down and as I stepped out it blew up, destroying my Comma Sutra CD collection. All my hair burnt off and I went to work anyway, but the place was just gone! Poof! No trace, just an empty office. I was able to ask a few of the building maintenance people, but none of them had ever heard of the company I worked for or recognized me. They said the office suite I was talking about had been vacant as long as any of them could remember.”

“I knew there was something fishy about it the whole time, but still can’t really put a finger on it,” she shrugs, an admittance and acceptance of defeat and failure. “Oh well, sucks to be me.”

“I was you for five days,” I say to her, “And it happened to be the absolute best week of my entire life.”

She gives me the lunatic smile I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing. “What are you talking about? Being me?”

“It was that week a few years ago that you can’t remember. You had that accident on your ski vacation in Zürich, and found yourself a week later wandering along the edge of the Nile.”

Her face turns white, she gasps. “Oh my God! That’s right! I had blocked the whole thing from memory. I can’t believe I projected all my insecurities and fears on my cat, Vishnu. I’ve been taking him to pet psychiatrists for years! Oh my, it’s all coming back to me now.” She shakes her head quick and smiles.

I wait until her eyes meet mine, and continue, “Now, do you remember this? Way back, many, many years ago, before cards, before electricity, before even money, you were called Otuglu and you lived in the cave closest to the water, and one morning the thin, tri-cloptic beings emerged, walking out of the ocean and onto the land. After first becoming friends, they adapted to our customs. Eventually they completely blended, indiscernible from the normal folks. Until one day–

I was interrupted by the arrival of her bus. She said she really wanted to hear how it turned out, but for now, she really had to leave.

Of course, I never saw her again. It was soon after when someone in Los Angeles decided to surgically attach himself to his car, and was no longer able to go anywhere that didn’t have a drive trough window.

Within a few weeks it was the newest trend in America. By the time the decade closed out anyone who was anybody had been stitched permanently into their cars, they’re internal organs in synced up with the electronics and mechanics of the engine.

The ‘cool’ people of the Earth, at one with their vehicles.

Everyone else was forced to rearrange the world to accommodate. Every form of business was required to install a drive through, the dentist’s office was soon made into the dentist’s garage.

All the uncouth, the losers of the world, those of us not surgically connected to our automobiles, we were all very helpful and pleasant adapting the planet to their whim, we all found it amusing and we chuckled silently to ourselves.

Trapped in their cars now for the duration of their lives, the trend setters and socially superior found themselves unable of any physical contact with any other cool person, or in fact, at all.

Ultimately it meant they were unable to produce offspring.

We, the peasants, the pedestrian, those of us who were well removed from the cutting edge, we give a knowing smile as we pass the cars on the street, as we watch them convert another parking garage into condos, as we wait on them in the window of the grocery store drive-through express lane.

Quietly it echoes in the hearts of the entire species, ‘We are finally rid of these bastards.’

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Cop Dog

I’ve had so much coffee I’m at the point where I feel like a complete raving homicidal maniac. I’m glad to have found my peace.

spotteddogFezby is in the corner, arguing with the dog. “See this cigarette? Dog! This proves my evolutionary superiority over you! Got it?”

Of course, the dog isn’t paying him any attention, but staring off into a gray memory of the good old days as a cop dog, sniffing out these ugly humans.

“Not only can we produce fire, we can inhale it!” Fezby takes a long drawn drag from this cigarette, and lets it pour back out over the dog’s head.

Of course, the dog outlives Fezby by several years, and makes a better tennis partner than that old crust could ever be.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter