The stranger-than-fiction story of the ingenious creation and loss of an artificially intelligent android of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick
In late January 2006, a young robotocist on the way to Google headquarters lost an overnight bag on a flight somewhere between Dallas and Las Vegas. In it was a fully functional head of the android replica of Philip K. Dick, cult science-fiction writer and counterculture guru. It has never been recovered.
In a story that echoes some of the most paranoid fantasies of a Dick novel, readers get a fascinating inside look at the scientists and technology that made this amazing android possible. The author, who was a fellow researcher at the University of Memphis Institute of Intelligent Systems while the android was being built, introduces readers to the cutting-edge technology in robotics, artificial intelligence, and sculpture that came together in this remarkable machine and captured the imagination of scientists, artists, and science-fiction fans alike. And there are great stories about Dick himself—his inspired yet deeply pessimistic worldview, his bizarre lifestyle, and his enduring creative legacy. In the tradition of popular science classics like Packing for Mars and The Disappearing Spoon, How to Build an Android is entertaining and informative—popular science at its best.
About David F. Dufty
David F. Dufty is a senior research officer at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Memphis at the time the android was being developed and worked closely with the team of scientists who created it. He completed a psychology degree with honors at the University of Newcastle and has a PhD in psychology from Macquarie University.
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. – Kirkus Reviews
Review: ‘How to Build an Android’ by David F. Dufty
The Los Angeles Times Book Review – June 10, 2012 (Excerpt)
In 2005, at the edge of robotics, a curious project took shape: an android that was an eerily realistic copy of science fiction author Philip K. Dick. It looked like Philip K. Dick. It wore his clothes. Using sophisticated software that drew upon hundreds of interviews as well as Dick’s many published books, it even talked something like Philip K. Dick.
The android could smile, raise an eyebrow, frown and, most important, interact in conversation. At a few public exhibitions, it stole the show. It won an award at a robotics competition held at Carnegie Mellon University. And then, on an airplane headed to California, the android’s head went missing.
It was, perhaps, the most Philip K. Dick of endings to a very Philip K. Dick story. The chronicle of how this improbable robot was built and came to its unfortunate end is a fascinating one, but David F. Dufty isn’t quite up to the task of telling it in “How to Build an Android.”
Dufty was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Memphiswhen the android’s software was being written there, and in reaching across the scientist-lay reader divide he often over-explains the obvious while leaving out the good stuff. For example, the work of android makers who faced a nearly impossible deadline gets an all too brief summary, but Dufty spends three pages explaining to us what Google is. I’m fairly confident that to anyone who is curious about Philip K. Dick and androids, Google needs no introduction. [Read the full article...]
Talking Head - ‘How to Build an Android,’ by David F. Dufty
The New York Times Book Review – June 22, 2012 (Excerpt)
“How to Build an Android” is the honest title of an earnest book, the first by David F. Dufty, a senior research officer at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It explains how a team of researchers at the University of Memphis collaborated in 2005 with an artist and robotics expert, David Hanson, to create what was then the most sophisticated android anywhere, a replica of the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick.
They called him Phil.
If you have heard of him, you probably know that he is missing, or at least his head is. It disappeared in December 2005, when Hanson was flying from Dallas to San Francisco to show Phil off to Google. Hanson changed planes in Las Vegas, but left Phil’s head in a carry-on bag in the overhead bin. He didn’t realize what he had done until he got to San Francisco. The bag continued on to Orange County, and has never been recovered.
Where did Phil go? To many people the disappearance sounded like something out of Philip K. Dick, whose lurid, drug-enriched work inspired Hollywood’s dark science-fiction thrillers “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” and more. He wrote a lot about artificial intelligence, impenetrable conspiracies and androids going missing. And he had lived in Orange County until his death in 1982. Did Phil decide to go there on his own? Was he stolen, or did he escape? What had he been thinking? [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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