Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”  – Philip K. Dick

Lessons learnt: When androids become humanlike (in the EQ department), things start to become creepy real fast. People value ‘real’ things over ‘fakes’. Do not blindly trust your memories.

It is the year 1992, World War Terminus has passed and the world is covered in levels of radiation. Most people have moved to colonies, incentivized by receiving a free ‘andy’ (android) by the UN. Yet still people remain on earth, some because they do not have the mental capacity to come along (only smart people were allowed to go), others because their job requires them to stay on earth. The latter case is true for Rick Deckard and his wife Iran. Rick is a bounty hunter with the San Francisco police department and he is about to face quite the challenge. This is how Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DADOES) by Philip K. Dick starts.

Over the course of the book, Rick will headhunt 6 andies that have escaped from the colony and who are posing as humans on earth. The story is not too long and can be read within a few hours (just like Animal Farm), more interesting is how the andies are depicted in the novel. They look just like humans, eat food and even dream (but probably not about electric sheep). The only thing that is different is that they have no feelings such as that we humans have. Rick uses a so-called Voight-Kampff Test, something that detects how fast and in what magnitude the test subject responds to different situations (it is comparable to a lie detector). Where in DADOES people are immediately shocked by an example of people eating animals (they are almost extinct and are kept as very expensive pets /status symbols), the andies have a delay in their response. What I find interesting is that tests like this would be very hard to do. Not every person responds in the same way, psychopaths or people with less affect might not even show readings when presented with very grotesque imagery. At the same time, humanoid androids can be programmed to show very sudden or delayed responses, making it impossible to detect who is who (without cutting someone open of course). It leaves a man thinking.

Another interesting aspect of DADES is the mood organ. It is introduced in the very beginning and can be explained as a device that lets you choose your emotion, its duration and intensity. Here is an excerpt:
“Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it.”
“I don’t feel like dialling anything at all now,” Iran said.
“Then dial 3,” he said.
“I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! …

What if we could control our emotions? What would people choose, would we all set it to eternal bliss, or would we then forget to eat and sleep? And what if we could endure the most horrible jobs with a smile, just because you put the settings on happy in the morning. And what about including emotional states such as depression, would you need to know what is a ‘good’ mood again, or can you be happy without knowing what sad is like. With the ying-yang symbol (and philosophy) in mind, my intuitive answer would be no. We are of course not currently that advanced in technology that we can really do this, but I guess that we are darn close.

“I like her; I could watch her the rest of my life. She has breasts that smile.” (Rick about a female andy) – Philip K. Dick

Maybe DADOES was written as just any sci-fi story, maybe it was written to get people to think about the subjects discussed before. There may not be a definitive answer here, but it sure did the latter for me. DADOES was written in 1968, but now still reads as if it could happen within a few years. It is not a book that you need to have read, it is a book that is great for the summer and to discuss with friends. If you are more fond of movies, there is the adaption called ‘Bladerunner’ which you can watch.

More on DADOES – DADOES study guide – Pdf of DADOES – Wiki on DADOES