Sidharth Vardhan

Androids and Electronic Sheep

(A review by Sidharth Vardhan
'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'
by Philip K. Dick
First written on July 15, 2017)

Have you ever wondered how we are living in a world where people are becoming more and more mechanical while machines are being turned into more and more human-like? I mean look at it, on one hand, we have people to whom, mobiles have become as important for lungs. They can’t imagine their lives without them – they set alarms on mobiles to determine when to wake up, they carry the thing in their pockets (in their hands at times when it is one of those large smart-phones and their pockets are too small). Not only that, the phones create a virtual reality for them – with music and videos and so on. I read a comic book once about these aliens who had become cyborg over time – they got so many things to carry around, that they decided it is just convenient to build the thing in their body. I am not sure how many of us will mind such an in-built mobile, you know it frees your hands for sex and stuff.

On the other hand, we have these robots, which by very definition, are supposed to be more and more like humans. And it is not enough for perfectionist to have a robot that can walk around but they must have a robot that must move more and more in the perfect human manner. It is not enough for them to do physical things like human beings like people but now, they must think like humans too – have artificial intelligence too.

The question then would arise – will there ever be a time (of course, assuming your terrorists, our cute little nuclear, global warming and Trump (sorry, I already said terrorists) do not destroy the humanity) when robots being so alike humans – being intelligent and, who knows, emotional creatures, will ask for same rights as humans? Or will humans start having empathy for androids?

It is easier to answer that second question. One only has to look at the popularity of stuff like sex dolls. One may argue that if they aren’t even more popular than it is because their resemblance is only limited to physical featured and at that features that are constant. If they had facial features and could talk … the resemblance would be stronger. Now, this is about sex drive and, as we know, it is for almost all of us, only humans that attract our sex instinct. And even that can be so easily fooled by robotics.

What chance then our empathy and compassion has, with which we are so liberal as to extend it to animals? How easy it could be to feel sorry for the machine? Remember 'Small Wonder’? The reasons why people – those sensitive fools, find cats and dogs so cute, adorable and so on, is because of the similarity their faces have with us – you know the eyes and stuff. Cartoonists and toy makers make animal faces a lot more vertical (especially when it comes to teddy bears) because that makes them coughs ‘cute’.

So how long can it be before robotics get to the level of getting that sympathy?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K DIck SIdharth Vardhan Review Analysis
Blade Runner, the movie based on 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'

Of course, it will change the very roles robots might play. They might slowly change from being our servants or slaves for whom we feel nothing to a child for parents who can’t have one for themselves. (there is an amazing Twilight zone episode about one such subject). People always fool themselves, children play with baby dolls – how far we can pretend to be from a kid who makes play with plastic toys and make s castles in sands? Supposing an epidemic disease affecting newborns spreads out – won’t the new wannabe parents want to have robotic children instead? They can be exactly like normal children – assuming they can be made to err, to cry for no reason, smell like children and stuff; while still shielding their parents from fear of that loss. – Hey those sounds like ideas of a great novel, somebody should totally write one like that. (it might also be a good reason to have genetically engineered children – think Gattaca.)

The walk to humanoids might not be that simple though. if we were to deny humanity to a thing that looks so human, so like us – it is possible that we might question our own humanity. That might explain the eeriness and discomfort (called Uncanny Valley ) these humanoids generate as they resemble people more and more. In fact, such fears and doubts might be there in creators themselves - what Asimov called Frankenstein complex.

Some of these themes show up in this book (see! I was always talking about the book). In this case, the change is beginning to be visible. Some of the androids have come to revolt against slavery imposed on them. Some of the humans have developed feeling towards them – sexual as well as platonic. But the government and general laws are still against the mix and match relation (like racial laws of some western countries and caste laws of India).

Since animals are becoming a rarity (the nuclear war thing), electronic animals are cheaper replacements (an actual animal pet is a luxury) – and as far as artificial animals go, humans are more liberal with emotions. The artificial animals must be fed like humans, they fall sick and all. (I can never understand people wanting to have pets and children). It might sound stupid until you realize how much you love an artificial Mickey mouse while actual mouse will probably scare you.

Another cover of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Sidharth Vardhan Review Analysis
Another Cover

People are becoming more and more like machines – there are moods organs that people use to change their moods by dialing numbers. Trigger warning for feminists kind of folks – they might not like number 594: ‘pleased acknowledgment of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters’. Also, the only woman that is not a machine in this book is a housewife.

Even the religion is technological – using a device called the empathy box to replace the traditional churches. This religion has its outcasts too - people who can't pass tests of empathy are treated like mentally retarded are in our present society. Perhaps it is because the people have come to value superiority over machines that comes in form of empathy= especially to animals only thing androids have failed to replicate. So empathy is at root of both religion and economics.

The founder of religion turns out to be a fraud – but like several aspects where real life religion has been discovered to lie (creationism, the source of diseases and like); the uncomfortable truth doesn’t disturb the faith of the people.

What about humanoids? There are two things worth discussing. One is the sort of existential crisis they get – because they are created in a way to observe, learn and be more and more like humans – of course, at some point, they figure out they will never be humans. It must like a dusky complexioned girl who was told only fairly complexioned girls are pretty and they try rubbing whitening creams over and over and over to their disappointment.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick Sidharth Vardhan review analysis
Philip K. Dick

The other thing is while humanoids seem to be developing feelings we have for ourselves - self identity, ambition and such like self- worthies thingies (and thus so many humanoid runaways); that doesn’t seem to be the case with the feelings we have towards others – love, sexual attraction, and compassion (let us just call it LSC), whether it is LSC towards human beings or other machines (though in last we have a couple of exceptions.

And thus while the humanoids easily generate such feelings in humans for themselves – LSC, they themselves do not seem to have those feelings in return. Humanoids can look at people and know that the latter is having those feelings – and can pretend to have them too. But they don’t feel anything themselves, thus an obvious advantage over humans vulnerable to sentiments. This might be another reason why humans don't much like Androids. No one like unrequited love or sexual attraction.

And Andys don’t even understand animals’ feelings, maybe because they never were supposed to learn to resemble them. This makes them perfect psychopaths. Studies show that psychopaths can read facial emotions of sorrow and like but they do not react to those feelings the way we do – by feeling the sorrow too. In some cases, they might actually turn curious and or get pleasure from causing pain, that is - be sadists. Moreover, psychopathic criminals too tend to show cruelty towards animals in their childhood. They too might generate feelings in you – and use those feelings to emotionally kidnap and blackmail you. Andys in the book do all these things.

More Quotes:

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.” 

Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.” 

Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

“I never felt like that before. Maybe it could be depression, like you get. I can understand how you suffer now when you're depressed; I always thought you liked it and I thought you could have snapped yourself out any time, if not alone then by means of the mood organ. But when you get that depressed you don't care. Apathy, because you've lost a sense of worth. It doesn't matter whether you feel better because you have no worth.” 

Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

“My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” 

Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

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