Philip K. Dick’s short stories have been turned into some of Hollywood’s greatest sci-fi films; Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau to name but a few. In Blade Runner android ‘replicants’ of humans are commonplace in a futuristic Los Angeles. This world might not be as far away as you would think. Robots can now play soccer, navigate obstacle courses and mimic a range of human movements. Furthermore, the Pentagon is well underway in developing an android soldier to replace human troops on the frontline. The ability to copy human expressions already exists, with androids rapidly becoming more and more lifelike.
While lifelike in appearance, these androids are far from thinking and expressing emotion on their own accord. Some of Dick’s replicants were unaware they were robots, programmed with human memories and even able to love one another. Dick questioned what it meant to be human. What set us apart from these replicants? He blurred the line between human and android with their ability to care for one another, and I’m sure he had loftier dreams for androids than fully replacing brothel workers by 2050. While this current conjecture may rid the sex trade of many of its dangers and traps, it’s crude to think the media seems to enjoy talking about android brothels as much as android applications to medicine or more common day-to-day services. Given Dick’s ability to make robots human, let’s hope that android technology progresses beyond the grime of the sex trade.
Some of Dick’s characters are unaware they are androids or that their memories have been wiped and they’re living another life. It’s a recurring theme in his stories, the main characters with little control over who they are or what they are able to do. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Total Recall learnt that he was leading a second life, his memory wiped and a new one inserted to hide his life as a secret agent. Today, there are pills with the ability to remove certain memories. While they have only been tested – and proven – on rats, the pills removed one memory whilst leaving all others intact. This has valuable application for sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with one pill able to remove haunting images and suffering at the hands of stress and anxiety. There are obvious ethical questions about the use and misuse of these pills, but the chance to live a life free of great trauma must be a tantalising prospect for sufferers.
Dick was a great visionary, and many of his dreams may just come true in the near future. This author can only hope he is not subjected to an Adjustment Bureau style hijacking of his life, or a memory wipe and a false life. For all I know, I may have always been a replicant. I may have no idea that all my memories have been implanted by an engineer. It’s a short way off, but it’s still a scary thought that in the future we may not be able to tell the difference between human and android, between a new life and our old one.