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Review: 'How to Build an Android' by David F. Dufty

A robot is constructed in the image of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick.

June 10, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

With the help of one of the people involved with "A Scanner Darkly," the 2006 film based on Dick's novel and in production at the time, the android creators met and got the buy-in from Dick's estate. It was support like this that kept Hanson, Olney and the rest, who were essentially volunteering their time, enthusiastic about the project. Dick's daughters sent them an outfit that he wore before his death in 1982; his speeches and books were parsed and input. He was loaded with speech-recognition software, and Olney wrote code that allowed the android to learn from conversations, recognizing repeated questions and refining responses.

It's at this point that the biggest questions come up: How close was the process of the android Philip K. Dick to actual thinking? Can artificial intelligence rival human intelligence? (Some say it already has.) With Hanson's painstakingly adjusted facial robotics, "Dick" could express what appeared to be emotions, which were keyed to his internal processes. But that's not actually being emotional — or is it? Unfortunately, these questions are only glancingly addressed in "How to Build an Android." As I read, I kept thinking of the public radio show "Radiolab's" outstanding ability to tackle big-picture questions while explicating scientific detail — there isn't enough of either in this narrative.

The one thing Dufty has going for him is that he was studying at the University of Memphis at the time, so he knows the atmosphere of IIS from the inside. He ably describes the fertile, feverish atmosphere of intellectual endeavor, the kind of place where a crazy idea — like building a Philip K. Dick android — could take hold.

carolyn.kellogg@latimes.com

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