Androids are being developed that have an uncanny resemblance to people. A pinnacle example is an android crafted by roboticist David Hanson that resembles the famous and deceased science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. What makes android Dick so remarkable isn’t so much his appearance as it is his ability to hold an intelligent conversation.
The creators of android Dick uploaded the deceased author’s work onto the android’s software, as well as conversations with other writers. If the android was asked a question that had been posed to the real Dick, the robot would answer the question as Dick would. The robot was also able to answer a series of complex questions. If the robot was asked a question that it was unfamiliar with, its software would attempt to answer the question using what is called “latent semantic analysis.”(1)
Android Dick in conversation
Android Dick’s speaking abilities were put to the test in an interview with a reporter from PBS NOVA. Android Dick’s brain is comprised of a tapestry of wires that are connected to a laptop. As the conversation proceeded, Philip’s facial recognition software kept track of the reporter’s face. In addition, speech recognition software transcribed and sent the reporter’s words to a database in order to assemble a response.
The questions posed to Dick were by no means trivial. When the reporter asked if the android could think, it responded, “A lot of humans ask me if I can make choices or if everything I do is programmed. The best way I can respond to that is to say that everything, humans, animals and robots, do is programmed to a degree.” Some of the androids responses were pre-programmed, whereas others were assembled from the internet.(2)
Dick continued, “As technology improves, it is anticipated that I will be able to integrate new words that I hear online and in real time. I may not get everything right, say the wrong thing, and sometimes may not know what to say, but everyday I make progress. Pretty remarkable, huh?”(2)
Android Dick and the Turing test
The entire conversation has the ominous undertones of the Turing test. The late mathematician Alan Turning sketched a thought experiment known as the “Turing test” that could theoretically be used to determine whether a machine could think. Turing claimed that any machine capable of convincing someone it is human by responding to a series of questions would, by all measures, be capable of thinking.
As a side note, it’s important to stress that Turing was not claiming that the nature of thinking is universal. The way a human thinks may be different from the way a robot “thinks,” in the same way a bird flies is different from the way an airplane “flies.” Rather, Turing’s general point was that any entity capable of passing a Turing test would be capable of thinking in one form or another.(3)
According to the novelist Dick, the Turing test placed too much emphasis on intelligence. What actually makes us human is empathy. Without empathy, we are mere autopilot objects projecting into the void.(4)
Android Dick seemed to exhibit a primitive form of both intelligence and emotion when the robot was asked, “Do you believe robots will take over the world?” Android Dick responded:
“Jeez, dude. You all have the big questions cooking today. But you’re my friend, and I’ll remember my friends, and I’ll be good to you. So don’t worry, even if I evolve into Terminator, I’ll still be nice to you. I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ol’ times sake.”(2)
Aaaaw, he’ll keep humans cozy in his people zoo. Isn’t that nice of android Dick? You can watch the full video of the android’s conversation below: