You Can't Judge a Book by its Movie: or, Ethics, Androids, and Empathy

Philip Dick hints at the ethics dilemmas of the future; anything uncanny valley creeps me out no end.
Photo by Max Braun CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good, quick, and easy read. The book has been selected as the "2018 Book of the Year" for students and staff at the University of Canberra. I was thrilled with the choice. Many of the books to date have been deliberate YA fiction. As a literature snob I find these difficult to swallow, but Philip Dick's work is a bit out there, and although a modern classic, I like that it is not too recent. I couldn't recall the 1982 movie Blade Runner as I was only 12 when it was released. Scenes were familiar but I could not recall the plot. After I had read Dick's book up until there were ten pages to go, I rented Blade Runner (starring Harrison Ford) on BigPond Movies. The movie's plot was all over the shop with large parts of the spiritual elements missing, and the empathy, which Dick illustrates does not belong to androids, is somehow transferred to Rutger Hauer's portrayal of the android Roy Baty. The deity, Mercer, is non-existent (strangely replaced by little people, it seems), and the goat-killing android Rachael isn't a goat killer at all as she is too busy falling in "love" with Harrison Ford. it was an interesting activity to have read everything except the conclusion, and then to have watched the movie before concluding the book. As is often the case, the book is far superior. As far as a "Book of the Year" goes, I am looking forward to teaching in 2018 as I will be able to use the book in my assessment items (which we are encouraged to do). One thing I want to focus on is how civil society develops concepts of ethics around artificial intelligence and robotics, and also how, from a leadership perspective, changes to warfare, the workplace, and leisure activities will be increasingly under pressure from technological advances. Dick's work is helpful in that it does not turn the plot into a grunge-fest (as in the movie), and enables one to tease out numerous themes relating to religion, spirituality, ethics, futurism, machines, and the all-too-creepy "Uncanny Valley". It is short enough to read in one sitting, yet literary enough to satisfy literature snobs, and a good choice for 2018.

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