For good or for ill, A.I.’s are shaping the future — indeed, they are shaping the present. But what are the costs? The benefits? Is this the end of humanity as we know it, or the rise of the next, inevitable step? These might be pertinent questions now, but decades before A.I. became a tangible reality, Philip K. Dick, legendary Sci-Fi author, dreamed of its possibility in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Dick’s tick was this: If humanity develops a near-indistinguishable android, then how and where do humans draw the line between humanity and android? Empathy: biology can be synthetic, intelligence coded, but empathy cannot be programed — at best, it can be imitated but not fool-proof. In fact, their coldness signals something offstandish. Even “specials” (an awful name for someone with a lower IQ), sense something missing — a warmth.
After the war, Earth became a ghetto planet and Mars a luxury. Andys, or androids, were made for Mars residents. But once in a while, andys will turn rouge — escaping and in the process killing their owners. Rouge andys will immigrate to Earth unnoticed, hoping to live out their short lives — 4-5 years — in relative peace. But killing a human violates Mercerism — the official religion of humanity. So, bounty hunters like Rick Deckard “retires” andys. But since andys continue to develop and improve, like Rosen Association’s newest Nexus-6 software, tests like Voight-Kampff are necessary to distinguish humans from andys. The Voight-Kampff specifically measures the timing of empathic responses: the shorter, the more natural it is. The test subject will be asked hypothetic scenarios, mostly dealing with animals such as abuse, mutilation, and hunting. In the aftermath of nuclear warfare, species extinction became a horrifying norm, thus animals became highly prized — for instance, a rabbit can cost a couple thousand dollars! No human on earth can bear the thought of mutilating an animal — even cutting the legs off spiders send unnerving chills down one’s spine. Andys can imitate empathetic responses in the face of these hypothetic scenarios, but it is their timing and lack of enough heat that makes them fail the Voight-Kampff test.
What happens, however, when a bounty hunter empathizes with rouge andys? Are killing near-indistinguishable humans the same thing as killing humans? Even if it is similar, what do bounty hunters lose?
Personally, I was absorbed and enamored by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I’ve read Dick’s other iconic work: The Man in the High Castle but was sorely disappointed — now, I’m reconsidering rereading it!