For a long-lost android, Philip K. Dick looks pretty good--like he's been living it up in Margaritaville.
The acclaimed author of science fiction classics "The Man in the High Castle" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" died in 1982, but this is his second resurrection in robot form.
Hardware for the android was completed last year, and software is still being developed. It's the handiwork of Hanson Robotics, led by Texas-based roboticist David Hanson. He and collaborators first showed off the talking robot head at NextFest back in 2005. It later vanished.
"It was tragic when the first robot was lost--it broke my heart," Hanson said in an interview with Crave. "It was a tool for realizing sentient, compassionate machines."
He's embarrassed to admit that he forgot the head on a San Francisco-bound plane. Before it disappeared for good, it was on a flight bound for Orange County, Calif.--Dick's home.
Maybe that wasn't a mere coincidence. After all, the head had some artificial intelligence.
Built at a cost of some $50,000, the new replicant is even smarter. It can carry on conversations with users in a more convincing, complex fashion. Judging by the video below, though, it doesn't look like it could pass a Voight-Kampff test.
Still, it can remember what has been said instead of just responding to words with a quote from Dick's works.
"It has better awareness and it's able to make logical deductions about itself and its internal state," Hanson said. "There are more AI features now."
The bearded bot was rebuilt in collaboration with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO, which produced a documentary last year entitled "The Owl in Daylight" after an unfinished novel by the author, whose works are behind iconic science fiction films such as "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall."
The new bust incorporates 32 low-power electric motors and skin called Frubber that is more expressive and lifelike. The redux Dick uses the same technology that went into Hanson's Einstein head, which has graced the top of a Korean humanoid robot and learned facial expressions at the University of California at San Diego.
Hanson says he wants to get the reborn Dick android to walk, but meanwhile he's using it as a tool for AI and cognitive sciences research, undertaken in collaboration with staff at his firm and university scientists. He's working on scientific papers related to the project.
"We've dedicated the robot to research with a nonprofit called the Apollo Mind Initiative, which is dedicated to the idea of achieving greater than human level genius in the next 10 years."
More human than human, indeed.