In the mid 2000s a computer programmer, a roboticist/artist, and a handful of supporting grad students came together to collaborate on what became partly  installation art and partly the most advanced android ever seen; an android impersonation of the famous science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick.

Humans, [David Hanson] would explain, are creating a society that will be more than human. It will be a synthesis of human and machine, and we need to think about how to guide that process so that we make benevolent machines that enhance our experience of life.

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Then, after a series of high-profile demonstrations, Dick’s head went missing. This is the totally true story about how the android came into existence — and how it went missing.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

Philip K. Dick is a preeminent science fiction author. After all, there’s even an award named after him. I had heard about this android — and the unfortunate disappearance — so when I saw this book on the shelf at Powell’s Technical Bookstore, I picked it up.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it chock full of geeky quotes and insight into the world of academic robot making. Furthermore, it provided some synopsis and insight into some of Dick’s works that I haven’t read.

Rating (3 stars)

Although this book is about androids and although I picked it up at Powell’s Technical Bookstore, this isn’t really a book for geeks who already have a working knowledge of techie stuff. Dufty frequently explains — in depth — things, such as who Alan Turing was and about the test he theorized, the difference and relationship between computer hardware and software,  or the concept of the “uncanny valley.”

If you’re familiar with Dick’s works, Dufty also explains the general plot behind a fair number of them. The most bizarre part of this book — when Dick’s head goes missing — is unfortunately not science fiction, but human error.