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How to Build an Android: The True Story of…

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

by David F. Dufty

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In the early 2000s, a team of roboticists and AI researchers built a talking, interactive android replica of science fiction author Philip K. Dick. If you're familiar with Dick's work at all, you probably understand immediately just how surreally appropriate that is. If you're not, well, it's not at all easy to describe succinctly, but let's just say it wouldn't be remotely surprising for any of his characters to discover at any time that they'd been a robot all along.

To make the whole story even weirder, they then managed to lose the android's head on an airplane, and it hasn't been seen since.

There would seem to be absolute no way for this story not to be utterly fascinating, especially for someone with an interest in robots and artificial intelligence, which I certainly am. Especially after you add in all the bizarre-but-true details, like the way David Byrne and the Talking Heads keep randomly popping up, or the way one of Robot Phil's developers once programmed a novelty singing fish to teach physics.

And yet, on the whole, I found this book a little disappointing. The writing is pretty bland, and it feels as if what would have worked well as a long magazine article suffered rather badly from being stretched out to full book length. I really don't think we needed to know all all about the phone calls they made to trucking companies about moving the android's soundproofed room around, or the blow-by-blow details of how that room was loaded on the truck, for instance.

Much more interesting were the descriptions of how the android was programmed (even if that was only outlined in very broad terms), its interactions with people, and the various nifty, high-tech stuff on display at the shows and events they took it to. And it's hard not to be weirdly captivated by the idea of its disappearance, even to indulge in flights of fancy about what it might be up to.

There's also some decent (if not very deep) discussion of Dick's life and work here. Still. This book seems like it should have been mind-blowing. And, at best, it manages to be unevenly interesting. ( )
  bragan | Jun 20, 2015 |
I think after a year of attempted reads I can finally state: could not finish.

I don't know, it just wasn't as interesting as I thought it was going to be. I picked it up because I like Philip K. Dick, and I do like androids. But I guess I'm not that into android nonfiction.

It's not you, its me.

( )
  lovelylime | Sep 21, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
2012-05-20: Early Reviewer that showed up just in time to become my new treadmill book. Much more interesting than I expected so it's working well.

2012-06-05: Reading drought seems to be over so I've started reading this on the treadmill again. Still interesting.

2012-06-12: Only a few chapters left. I actually sat and read for about 20 minutes after the treadmill yesterday.

2012-06-14: Interesting and informative. It seems like the big problem in android-human communications is background noise. Well written. ( )
  Awfki | Jul 31, 2013 |
Philip K Dick was an iconic Sci Fi author. Think Bladerunner, think total recall. Think of identity crisis and paranoia and ponder the question he raised; In the future how will you tell if you are human? If you a building a cutting edge robotic head who else could you choose?

This is a story of its conception and creation of the robot that captured everyone’s imagination and then in a delicious fit of irony, disappeared forever.

It is a heady and compelling mix. No previous knowledge is required of the science or the author, both are beautifully described and deftly interwoven into the tale. In fact even if you do know something his descriptions are a delight. The late nights, the excitement of creation and tense resolution of last minute issues all keep your interest and even more fascinating the odd glimpse of actual conversations held with the head.

I highly recommend it to popular science fans, sci fi lovers and anyone who wishes to see a quirky story and ask themselves, how do you know you're you? ( )
  clfisha | Jun 26, 2013 |
Enjoyed this book. Even though another PDK android head was built, I can't help feeling that the loss of the bread equates to a death. It also makes me feel a bit sad that the android was "retired" way too soon after its incept date. ( )
  alsatia | May 11, 2013 |
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In December 2005, an android head went missing from an America West Airlines flight between Dallas and Las Vegas.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805095519, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:05 -0400)

The stranger-than-fiction story of the creation and loss of an artificially intelligent android of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Readers get a fascinating inside look at the scientists and technology that made this amazing android possible.

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