Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: How to Build an Android by David Dufty

The stranger-than-fiction story of the ingenious creation and loss of an artificially intelligent android of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick

In late January 2006, a young robotocist on the way to Google headquarters lost an overnight bag on a flight somewhere between Dallas and Las Vegas. In it was a fully functional head of the android replica of Philip K. Dick, cult science-fiction writer and counterculture guru. It has never been recovered.

In a story that echoes some of the most paranoid fantasies of a Dick novel, readers get a fascinating inside look at the scientists and technology that made this amazing android possible. The author, who was a fellow researcher at the University of Memphis Institute of Intelligent Systems while the android was being built, introduces readers to the cutting-edge technology in robotics, artificial intelligence, and sculpture that came together in this remarkable machine and captured the imagination of scientists, artists, and science-fiction fans alike. And there are great stories about Dick himself—his inspired yet deeply pessimistic worldview, his bizarre lifestyle, and his enduring creative legacy. In the tradition of popular science classics like Packing for Mars and The Disappearing Spoon, How to Build an Android is entertaining and informative—popular science at its best.

Received for review.

Having read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I found the idea of an android based on the author especially intriguing so I was excited to read this.  Unfortunately, this tale behind the real-life android fell a bit short of my expectations.

The author does a lovely job of comprehensively covering the android building process from the initial development stages to its actual building and use.  This comprehensiveness is educational but not entertaining.  The story is very, very dry, despite sprinklings of photographs throughout.  It really reads more like a textbook.

If you can stay awake long enough this is actually a very interesting true story, especially for Phillip K. Dick fans, and I do recommend it.  Just have a shot of espresso (or three) before you begin reading.

★★☆☆ = Liked It

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