How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection Audio CD – Audiobook, 5 Jun 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
While reading this, I had to separate the "story" from the "story telling" and "story teller". The "story" was somewhat interesting, though it was sometimes difficult to winnow the wheat from the chaff. The "story telling" and "story teller" combination failed to put forth the story to their audience in an entertaining way. It was too dry and disjointed. I could only handle about ten pages at a time.
For those with a historical interest in the field or those with a particular interest in this portion of its story, this will probably be a good addition to their libraries. For those wanting detailed information about robotics, androids and/or artificial intelligence, this contains only the "public" side of such and little that will "teach" you anything. For those who, like me, enjoy popular science books about interesting events and subjects, this is OK (and "OK" is Amazon's definition of three stars).
(As I finished, I had this thought: Had they had put someone capable of adjusting those heat/ac registers in charge of transporting the android's head, I wonder if it would have been left on a plane. I know how I'm betting.)
(I received an Advance Reader's Copy from the Amazon US Vine program.)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Then, in 2005, bound for its highest profile gig yet, the android vanished.
Author David F. Dufty, now an Australian government researcher, was present in Memphis for the android's bizarre life, and even stranger disappearance. Though not a participant, Dufty knew the research team well enough to recount a thorough insider's perspective. And though he swears he has inserted not one word of fiction, this heady blend of computer science, mechanical engineering, psychology, and art has more twists than PKD's legendary novels.
Art Graesser, founder of Memphis' Institute of Intelligence Studies, dedicated his life to understanding and recreating the rational mind. David Hanson, a Dallas graduate student and entrepreneur, felt it didn't matter how intelligent Artificial Intelligence became if humans couldn't feel comfortable interacting with it. The two found kindred spirits in each other, and together opened the door to one of modern technology's strangest and most exciting enterprises.
The decision to build an android in PKD's likeness was extremely meta. An android image of a writer who envisioned a world where people wondered if they were androids? Really? Then they displayed it in an illusion of the house in which PKD came to believe all reality was an illusion. Dick, a paranoid amphetamine addict with a gregarious temperament and a flair for the dramatic, could not have choreographed a better science fiction spectacle.
By no means was the android an unqualified success. Only the face and head were articulated; the body was basically a mannequin. Its speech recognition technology was vulnerable to even slight interference. Worse, because PKD left a massive corpus of publications and interview transcripts, the language generation software could hit a recursive loop, lapsing into a trance or spouting inane, interminable monologues. It required constant human supervision.
But it also came closer than any artificial device, before or since, to bridging the gap between humans and our creations. It substantially disproved two generations of technological philosophy, which thought humans would fear machines that proved too lifelike; indeed, people psychologically imbued it with human traits it didn't yet have. People wanted to believe this was the reborn visage of a unique, cultic novelist.
Dufty seamlessly merges journalism, science, and literary criticism in a history of one of recent technology's most remarkable events. He makes us dream of what seemed possible just a few years ago. And he makes us hope we might live to see those possibilities once again.
Dufty has also managed to combine elements of a mystery, an adventure, sci-fi, and social commentary without letting the seams between those story threads become so visible to the audience that they disrupt the narrative flow. If this sounds a bit like the goals of the project which created an artificially-intelligent android of famed science fiction author Philip K. Dick, well, there you go. Dufty's role in that project gave him up-close access, but to his credit he also maintains perspective and reports on the ups and down of the team's efforts with some objectivity and distance.
The edition I read is a pre-publication proof and if I were the editor I would make one significant change prior to the announced on-sale date of June, 2012. Lose the Introduction. As writers have been taught since time immemorial, a great way to start a book or story is "in medias res" -- in the middle of things. Chapter 1 does this with a "grabber" lede worthy of a master journalist: "In December 2005, an android head went missing from an America West flight between Dallas and Las Vegas." You'd have to be -- pardon the expression -- brain dead not to want to keep reading. Compare that to the intro, which starts out, "In 2005, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Memphis ..." You get the idea.The info about the author which follows would be much more appropriate to an appendix or note at the end of the book, when any doubts about the veracity of the story would either be resolved anyway or could be further addressed by Dufty's credentials.
Another small complaint is the low-quality photos, which are a slight disappointment, but may be all that are available. They do, however, manage to convey the inevitable creepy feelings we experience when looking at a lifelike android whose face is so very human, but whose head visibly reveals wires and motors. The contrast is very unsettling and like the book in its entirety, effectively raises the big issue of how humanity will want to relate to its own creations in the very near future.
David Hanson and Andrew Olney, backed by the University of Memphis and FedEx, didn't agree. And who better than to demonstrate their opposing view than a conversable recreation of a certain, late, genius? No, not Alan Turing!
Philip K. Dick (PKD) meets his destiny in Patrick Dufty's *How to Build an Android*. Not just as a robotic resurrection, or even an advanced AI capable of holding unique conversations with human visitors--his head became lost luggage in Orange County, a suitable end to this particular simulacra. As for Dufty, he was a postdoc associated with the builders. With his rare insider view, the advanced reading copy (ARC) shows promise.
The book reads as a story, including the author's own adventures in trying to track the head of Philip K. Dick (as opposed to bringing me the head of Alfredo Garcia--and yes, there is a Peckinpah reference). At the same time, Dufty avoids purple prose or many references to cinema. His subject is focused on the first Dick droid and his creators, so don't expect a sweeping round of the field of robotics, or of the second droid built in 2011. While a large part of the story covers the creation of the robot, no schematics or specs are to be found.
The book itself is laid out with an attractive cover and page design. However, it stumbles a bit from the beginning. Formula rhetorical writing teaches that a speaker needs to establish their credentials up front. Not always best to follow one formula--for a narrative, credibility comes from good storytelling. The introduction of the book should be relocated so readers can get straight to the punchy first chapter. Author's own involvement can be worked intrinsically into the action, and then summarized as biography at the end.
Stories move along when the prose tightens up. Dufty's story is informative, but the flow clogs up when it should be sweeping me along. His prose is periodically plugged with repetitive words, such as the same name repeated three or four times in as many sentences. Transitions between those sentences, their paragraphs, and the chapters can also smooth out. Finally, the author's voice needs to perk up and speak more actively.
Speaking of active voice, you can watch the PKD droids on the internet. I find both of them robotic. Hear the whine of the motors and the obvious speaker sound. Then again, the voice synthesizer does not exactly reproduce Dick or his speech compared to the recordings I've heard. Head movements are still too herky-jerky and limited in range to be human.
I bring this up to say that the ARC downplays these, well, uncanny aspects of the head. I am sympathetic with the book's argument that the Uncanny Valley hypothesis is far from established theory. I find the androids to be a novelty more than a neurosis. Yet I can't help notice YouTube comments, as well as quotes in the text of the book itself, confessing the creep factor. Dufty is largely taking an objective tone in his book, yet implies that the head is more lifelike than it actually appears to me on video.
Still, cosmetic technology has come a long way. The first head looks lightyears more realistic than the bust of Ian Holm in the original Alien. The second gen droid is even more personable with head hair and detailed blue eyes.
The guerilla nature of the project amazed me. The AI required high-level programming knowledge, while the bust used custom titanium parts. Otherwise, much of it was built without salary, sometimes with donated software or hardware, and often on precious spare time between university work. Indeed, the team only got the head up and running a mere four days before it was due to debut at NextFest. After it was lost, Hanson estimated the value of the prop at $750,000, but actual money paid thanks to all the volunteer work is somewhere along the lines of $30,000. Not bad!
PKD Robot No. 1 made three major public appearances before he bowed out for good. After promoting the film of A Scanner Darkly (see my review), Hanson was on the way to Google headquarters when he, er, left his head on an plane in Las Vegas. Although airline crews claim to have recovered PKD droid in Orange County, Hanson was given the run-around and the landmark bust remains unrecovered. The book takes the charitable position that the head was simply misplaced in transit to San Francisco. Reading between the lines of the loss, I suspect the head was stolen by airport personnel. Dufty does not mention any computer tracking. So it's only the baggage handlers' word that they ever loaded PKD onto a plane--a flight coincidentally rerouted away from San Francisco at the last minute. If that isn't conspiratorial enough for you, imagine heour hypothetical theif sold it to Iranian agents looking to capitalize on American technology. However wrong this all might be, I've thought up a line that Philip himself would be proud to compose.
When all is said and done, *How to Build an Android* composes for us one corner of the field of robotics. The PKD machine sounds far from being able to dream of electric sheep, but the art of a social simulacra appears much closer. And while his book needs some tweaks, Dufty does his part to bring the android dream to humanity.
Quick summary: In 2004, a consortium of scientists affiliated with the University of Memphis (Tennessee) collaborated on the creation of a lifelike replica of a human head using some advanced artificial intelligence software. In a fit of ironic whimsy, they decided to model the head of their creation after renowned writer and noted paranoiac Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and other science fiction classics. Author David Duffy, a minor player in this drama, steers us through the scientific and creative journey from technical drawings to working model with a minimum of technobabble and treats the reader to a quasi-biography of PKD himself: his work, his private life, his probable psychosis, and his acute paranoid-cum-religious fantasies.
The sheer hubris involved in this entire project is stunning in its scope, and it all makes for fascinating reading. Whether you're a science fiction fan or a technology geek, interested in voice recognition or robotics, or just a plain all around nerd, you're sure to find several hours of entertainment contained within the pages of Duffy's treatise.
Many thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program for the opportunity to read this book.