Sci-fi author’s robotic clone plans to keep humans in a ‘people zoo’

When PBS reporters asked this artificially intelligent machine about the future, its answer shocked them.


Dylan Love


Published Sep 2, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 1:17 am CDT

Robots haven’t taken over yet, but they’re already issuing lighthearted threats of what’s to come.

Philip K. Dick was the celebrated science fiction writer perhaps best known for writing the story that was adapted into Blade Runner. Though he died in 1982, a version of him lived on in artificially intelligent robotic form since 2005 thanks to the efforts of a company called Hanson Robotics. Hanson Robotics built a robotic replica of Dick that’s accurate not only in physical appearance, but also in its store of Dick’s original words that it might use in conversation. 

In a resurfaced clip of the robot from a 2011 episode of NOVA, reporters visiting Hanson Robotics asked the android a question about the often-hypothesized machine uprising that some expect will take place in the not-too-distant future. The robot’s human-like, conversational response sounds like it was taken from the pages of, well, a Philip K. Dick novel:

“Geez, dude. Y’all got the big questions cooking today. But you’re my friend, and I’ll remember my friends, and I’ll be good to you. So don’t worry. Even if I evolve into Terminator, I’ll still be nice to you. I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people-zoo, where I can watch you for old time’s sake.”

The robot’s “brain” is filled with heaps of data—the author’s complete written work, his interviews, and his recorded conversations with other writers—to use in its interactions with human beings. Hanson Robotics’ site says the robot “exhibits face perception, speech recognition, and conversational intelligence adapting Philip K. Dick’s words and life history to generate new ideas during conversation with people.”As eerie and coherent as that response may be, the robot is only going to improve in the future. “We intend to push the PKD android until it evolves super-human creativity and wisdom and transcends in a spiral of self-reinventing super-intelligence,” writes Hanson Robotics. “By ressurecting PKD as an android, we seek to realize genius-level AI with compassion and creativity.”

If such superintelligence should yield existential threat to humanity in the future, we may be praying for the protection of a people-zoo managed by a robotic Philip K. Dick.

H/T Latest | Screengrab via David Hanson/YouTube

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*First Published: Sep 2, 2015, 4:06 pm CDT