Essential Read: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Paul Rodger

Published in 1968 and written by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (later made into the film Blade Runner [1982]: highly recommend!) poses a comparative image of the complexities of the human emotional psyche. Portraying the story through the protagonist Rick Deckard, the story shines light over the visceral faculties of humans, compared with android artificial intelligence. Exploring the manufactured relationship between man and machine, Dick’s acclaimed novel offers the reader a rich insight into the deep-seated, yet often implicit, differences between human characteristics and the stringent cerebral traits of robots – providing a tangible juxtaposition between the idiosyncrasies of humans and our very own electronic creations.

The narrative follows Deckard, a bounty hunter on the trail of six Nexus-6 humanoids. With a tempting bounty at stake, Rick tracks down his targets vehemently. Following his pursuits, the story invites the reader into a world of unparalleled exploration of the natural virtues of futuristic human behaviour, and their vision of a world free from an intelligent android population. Posing this contradictory angle, Dick opens up the notion of human insecurity, positioned in an environment of technological and intellectual cleansing; incongruously confronting and contrasting human dominance with a man-made technological crisis.

Albeit exhibiting the ingredients of a full-on action thriller, the text’s essential messages lie in its emotional and psychological elements. The narrative depicts post-World War Terminus (hypothetical WWIII). With a large percentage of the human population and the animal world wiped out, the procurement and possession of a living animal as a pet is viewed as an eminent status symbol. However, delving deeper than mere materialism and possessions, Dick explores mental attraction and the emotional faculty of empathy as the key to distinguishing the human state.

Ahead of its time when released, Do Androids could also be seen to reflect modern day challenges and sentiments within mankind. These include the threats from nuclear warfare, the continuing struggle to reverse global warming, cross-continental epidemics and many other issues that directly threaten the integrity of human existence. However, as mentioned afore, Do Androids offers a more unsettling and personal scope through advanced, life-like machines. The robots and their aspirations to live free from human infringements, their desires to establish a global community confront the human attitude of trial and error and the often-scrambling process of righting our wrongs.

Throughout the book, with artificial intelligence continually advancing and the lines between human life and artificial life growing increasingly blurred, Deckard employs the so-called Voigt-Kampff empathy test. Gauging verbal responses and physical variations of the iris through a series of carefully articulated questions, Deckard seeks to expose the absence of compassion and conscious emotion. The text also portrays other themes of desire, humanity, and morality; pushing the narrative towards a climax of face-to-face, man-machine confrontation.

While skewing the lines between man and our robotic counter parts, Dick creates an intriguing fissure between the competing cerebral and innate visceral intricacies of the human and robotic forms. Opening up a world with so many gripping concepts and tangible ideas, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? provides a compelling, cerebral insight to any reader.

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