Why build a robotic portrait of Philip K Dick?
To some, the choice to build an android of science fiction writer Philip K Dick seems rather arbitrary.
It’s true that Philip K Dick wrote about robots, and therefore it is a homage to a visionary thinker and writer to make a robot in his image, in the same way that a modern plane might be named after the Wright brothers or some other pioneer of aviation.
But if that’s all it was about, there are plenty of other candidates to be turned into androids, from Asimov (who invented the Three Laws of Robotics) to Clark (remember HAL?) and many others.
But there’s something different about making it about Dick. Because Dick didn’t just write about androids. He wrote about people thinking they were androids, and androids who think they are people, and about the confusion about understanding the difference between the two. So it’s an android of the writer who wrote about androids who wonder if they are androids…
For example, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The main character is on a mission to hunt and destroy several rogue androids. He meets Rachel Rosen, who, he discovers, is a new model android, so advanced that it is indistinguishable from human. Rachel has had human memories implanted in her, so that she believes she is human. Through interacting with Deckard she begins to wonder if that is the case.
Am I human? Am I an android that has been programmed to think I am a human? Such uncertainty is a terrible existential crisis.
Dick was not at arms length from such reality questioning. He did not wonder if he was an android, or at least, there is no record of him wondering such a thing. That was a hell that he designed for Rachel Rosen and other characters. However, he did question the nature of reality around him, and what he was going through. His personal experience of life was punctuated by real-life variants of the very same conundrum that Rachel faced.
An android of Philip K Dick is a sort of paradox. It ‘s certainly what Hofstader would call a “tangled hierarchy”. This is something that you don’t get by making an android out of any other science fiction writer.