How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection

David F. Dufty. Holt, $26 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9551-7
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Dufty engagingly chronicles the efforts of a team of University of Memphis roboticists to build an android modeled on science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The book shows how the researchers attempted, partially successfully, to build a machine that not only looked like the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? author, but also imitated his speech patterns. Dufty, a postdoctoral researcher at the university when the team debuted “Phil,” lucidly explains the logistical hurdles facing the robotics team members as well as how they solved some significant problems; “Phil” sometimes babbled incessantly in response to questions when he was unveiled in 2005, spurring the team to build a kill switch. Dufty focuses on two main developers who created Phil—David Hanson, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and founder of Hanson Robotics, who created Phil’s head only to later lose it on an airplane, and Andrew Olney, a computer programmer who was obsessed with science fiction books as a youngster. Dufty examines how their differing outlooks influenced the project: Olney wanted to build an android that could answer questions intelligently, while Hanson wanted to create a machine that would appear human. Dufty’s narrative is a fun read that captures the researchers’ excitement about creating Phil, but doesn’t quite address whether the initiative was worth the effort. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012
Release date: 06/05/2012
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