February 8, 2010

Do Androids Dream of Exoplanets?

"The ship turned back a sixth of the way to Proxima. Otherwise Rachael would never have seen earth.." Thus that line inspired me to write a post about "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", the futuristic novel by the legendary author Philip K. Dick (PKD).

Probably known as the story which inspired the cult scifi movie Bladerunner, I also enjoyed it's rendition as a graphic novel. Although the art behind the comics version did not fully capture the kind of world that PKD painted, I honestly did not expect "Do Androids Dream" to be as rich as it is, touching upon a lot of topics that might become apparent in the near future.

First, is the opening introduction to the issue of animal extinction, and how Deckard--the pet-loving bounty-hunter (specializing in retiring "Andys") is yearning to own a real sheep, a real horse or any genuine animal, for that matter. As I write this, thousands of species are actually disappearing from our planet. Perhaps our children may someday own pets that are genetically-modified or fully synthetic versions of extinct species.

Second is the apparent evolution of robots into Androids that are so sophisticated that they are difficult to discern from real human beings. A special kind of modern psychological Turing Test is needed, which is requires a Voight-Kampff machine to detect whether a subject is an android or a human.

And the third one, which is of particular interest to this blog is the mention of Colony Worlds. In the future, we will employ hordes of androids, called "replicants"--to do all the drudgery for us, in building off-world colonies on inhospitable worlds like Mars. Already in the beginning stages of planetary exploration as we use rudimentary robots like the Spirit rover whom we already ascribe with anthropomorphic qualities, and who already moves our emotions in ways we could never explain.

Google perhaps even named their "Android" phones after one of the earlier versions of the replicants called the Nexus-6 (which gives us a hint of what this "evil" company may be up to in the near future). Corporations may utilize the charm of anthropomorphized machines to create profitable products that appeal to the masses and thus secure funding from "gadget-loving" consumers. Now that Human Space Flight is wide open for commercial entrepreneurship, it signals a glimpse of what lies ahead. Planetary exploration and colonization may in fact be undertaken by private firms.

And since humans are so fragile and expensive to transport and land on other planets, could there be good reasons to believe that the future exoplanetary exploration will be done in whole or in part, by artificially intelligent robots and androids operating under the funding or technology of commercial firms? One can never tell, unless of course when they're already staring us right in the face.

But if i was an Andy i will never go back to Earth, especially with that kind of treatment depicted in the novel. I'd rather run away far unto outer planets than be extinguished by narrow-minded humans on this forsaken world.

"Spirit" from XKCD
"Do Androids Dream" Official Page
Commercial Spaceflight