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:…


Half Mast

cartooncandleSo now we must add the Los Angeles airport and the mall in New Jersey to the list. Thoughts and prayers to anyone who was involved or has family involved. Yet another senseless tragedy we aren’t really prepared to deal with but have become accustomed to their almost regular occurrence.

I was on Facebook reading the comments. One friend was trying to get a clearer picture of what happened, and another person on the thread was talking about how he generally doesn’t try to dig deeper for the truth for a few days, when the sensational reporting subsides.

That seems a terrible tragedy in itself. We have become so complacent about these terrible events that we are able to formulate and recognize a regular protocol for how we individually process the information. Does this bother anyone else?

I’ve read the constitution, I’ve heard the arguments on both sides. I don’t have an answer and I won’t pretend I do. But it seems to be something we at least have to talk about. I don’t want to take away anyone’s rights, and I don’t want to enable anyone to come after your guns; but I also don’t think this is something we should accept as just another regular part of our lives.

How long is it going to be before we can discuss these things, how much more does it take to spark a dialogue. We are not too far off from our flag being flown permanently half-mast.

I hear the argument that says that any sort of regulation would only punish the law-abiding gun owners. The criminals will always find a way to get a weapon, we will only make it harder for citizens who only wish to protect their homes and families. I understand the point and to some extent I can see the point; But why is this same mentality not applied to anything else? Millions are spent every year on this out-dated notion of the War on Drugs, even though by the logic of this argument, criminals will always find a way to get their drugs, we know we can’t stop them all, so why do we try?

candleSome will argue that any law requiring background checks or any stipulation of what and how much we can own is a violation of the second amendment. I see where they are coming from but I do not agree. The right to bear arms is listed in the Constitution but there is nothing stating that no qualifications could not be employed. By that argument isn’t also a violation of our rights to deny gun ownership to felons, the mentally ill, and minors.

I don’t know the answer, as I said. But we need to have an adult discussion about this. This is a terrible thing to get used to, to accept as a part of our lives from now on. We don’t hear of shootings on a regular basis happening in Australia or Europe or even Canada.

And I know guns aren’t the only issue. Too many in this country are suffering and struggling with mental illness. The cultural and social divide becomes an ever-widening chasm. People react with drastic actions when the legal options offer no path to freedom and no satisfaction.

This is not something we should grow accustomed to, this is not a natural part of our lives that we might as well accept because there no way of avoiding them. We cannot afford to be complacent, and we shouldn’t sweep the conversation under the rug and say now is not the time to discuss these things. When then? What will it take for us to look at this problem and try to find a solution?

I don’t think we can afford to put it off any longer, and if the patterns continue, it will be less than a month, maybe less than a week, before we hear about the next event. Another terrible senseless action taking more innocents from us, and then another impetus to look at this phenomenon in a somber and sober light.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter