Saturday, June 24, 2006

Have You Seen This Android?

The head of an android replicant of the dead science fiction writer Philip K. Dick is missing. The andriod was built by Hanson Robotics, a company started by David Hanson, whose CV includes a BFA from RISD, AI study at Brown, and robotics study at the U of Texas. He built an android Einstein that was featured in Wired magazine.

Dick was the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was filmed as Blade Runner, and the short story that was filmed as Minority Report. Dick was a strange and paranoid man. The now defunct Hermenaut magazine has an interesting article on the author, from which I quote:
Staying up for days at a time wearing the same wrinkled and filthy Nehru jacket, eating frozen chicken pot pies and drinking protein-fortified milkshakes, downing fistfuls of "white crosses" and blasting opera music (while he inhaled gruesome amounts of snuff), Dick's world was restricted to bikers, drug addicts, and teenage girls. In 1971 he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because he wanted protection from the FBI (CIA?) agents who were tapping his phone and going through his papers. Shortly afterward, his house was in fact burglarized-which only confirmed his fear that one of his books had inadvertently revealed a government secret. (Dick was also fond of acting more crazy than he was; he enjoyed telling people, for example, that the cat's litter box was bugged.) Eager to get away from his own life, in 1972 he accepted an invitation to attend a Vancouver sf convention as the guest of honor, and fled carrying nothing but a suitcase, a trenchcoat, and a Bible.
Now, back to our android version. The android P.K. Dick was reportedly able to engage in simple discussion about the author's work; it could make eye contact and facial expressions. It recently participated in a panel discussion about the latest movie to made from a P.K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly. [Which is a live action movie directed by Richard Linklater, and then ruined by overlaid animation, à la Waking Life. What a waste. I loathe animation.]

The robot head wasn't stolen. It was left on a plane, reports the New York Times. David Hanson left the head in a bag in the overhead compartment, but notified the airline, which found it and promised to ship it back to him. It never showed up. The Times:
However satisfying to those with a sense of irony, Mr. Hanson is not comforted by the idea of his homage to Mr. Dick on a jaunt somewhere or, more likely, stuck in storage.

"It's almost like it has some free spirit to it," he said. "A lot of people have said that it's almost like a P.K.D. narrative, like one of those absurd twists that would occur in a P.K.D. novel. But emotionally it doesn't feel that way to me."

In Hollywood, though, executives have found a way to turn the loss to their advantage. Noting the oddity of the story, Ms. Kim [Laura Kim, a senior executive at Warner Independent, the art-house arm of Warner Brothers] said of the android: "He was perfect for the film. Now he's disappeared — and that's perfect for the film too."


The photo is from Hanson Robotics.

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