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Phil’s Rapture

Philip K. Dick would have turned eight-one this last Wednesday. I’ve previously written about him, within the scope of a Scanner Darkly, but for his birthday I’d like to claim the first miracle that will hopefully lead to his eventual beatification.

By way of the combined efforts of Hanson Robotics, the University of Memphis, and the University of Texas, Arlington, (along with the consultation of the Philip K. Dick Trust, PKD was returned to the land of the living. Well, sort of. In honor of his exploration of the meaning of human being-ness, he came back in the form of Phil the android. Certainly this man-machine would bomb the Voight-Kampff test about six seconds in, but considering it was a hunk of machinery, its bestowed abilities were impressive

The robot was fully autonomous. In other words, it operated without human intervention. it tracked people coming in and out of the room with face recognition software, and would greet faces that it knew. It listened to verbal input, used complex algorithms that incorporated LSA to generate a response, and would respond verbally using speech synthesis. - The Philip K. Dick Android Project

Now, in 2006, Phil was on his way to Mountain View for a private showing to the employees of Google. Now, Phil was clearly unwilling to be displayed in such a manner to the company who will, eventually, be able to bodily recreate you from your browser cache and email archives alone. In protest, Phil pulled off a vanishing act: first the body, and then the head.

Admittedly, this is a tragedy. Hundreds (if not thousands) of hours – along with $750,000 – were put into Phil’s meticulous research and construction. And, quite unfortunately, Hanson Robotics’ lawsuit was dismissed.

However, I have a feeling that on the day he is genuinely needed, on the day that the robot uprising is in full swing and mankind is on the brink of destruction, Phil will return to us and bring peace. Call it an inkling, but that android is out there, somewhere, learning, thinking, becoming more and more human by the day.

Picture courtesy of the PKD Android project blog.


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