City Tech, Fall 2016

Crowdsourcing what constitutes the “human” and the “authentic”

As part of our reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we are exploring what it means to be human, in a world where both people and animals have their fake/electric/mechanical/non-living counterparts.

We are also exploring what authenticity means in a world where everything, including emotions (think the Penfield Mood organ), empathy (Mercerism), beings, products, etc. can be simulated. You might consider the andys, the Penfield Mood Organ, notions of empathy,  the implantation of false memories, the Voight-Kampff test, (etc.), as well as the following questions:

  • What defines a “human” or “humanity”?
  • What distinguishes the real/genuine/authentic from the fake/simulated/ersatz? What is missing/lost/sacrificed (if anything) in these replicas?

(You can think about all of these questions, but especially the first two, above, in relation to the article, “Japanese professor creates uncanny, human-like robots, exhibit website, Android: What is Human? that we’re looking at for this coming week)

  • Who/what serves who/what? Who are the masters and who are the slave? Who are the superiors and the inferiors?
  • What are the relationships (colleagues, friendship, sexual, love, etc.) between different types of beings?
  • What is a real “emotion” if it can be simulated on a Penfield mood organ and what is real empathy if it can be simulated through Mercerism (and tested, perhaps, by the Voight-Kampff)?
  • What about fertility/reproduction (with Deckard’s neighbor’s horse, with the regulars/specials, with Mercer bringing dead things back to life, with having to deal with a post-apocalyptic world that is mostly dead)?
  • What kinds of competing sets of values are at play?
  • What are central conflicts of the novel?

I am also particularly interested in us tracing how, through their interaction with andys (and their particular positions in the world: Bounty Hunter and special/chickenhead, respectively), Rick Deckard and John Isidore move from merely embodying values/norms of their society that they have have already internalized, to developing individual, (perhaps rebellious?), free-thinking understanding about the world and their places in it, and the hierarchy of beings (living and otherwise).

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Saturday (10/22) at 11:59pm. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 10/25 by 2pm.

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

20 Comments

  1. Duron Crichlow

    Well, the way how I see it, I say that being a “human” has to be a living being who has true emotions and empathy. It also has to show their decisions with their own mind.

  2. Daniel Mayorga

    What I believe defines a “human,” is any individual that can distinguish between what is right or wrong. In addition, a human is capable of experiencing empathy for any living creature or being. Thus, we can’t declare the andys as “humans” because they are not able to feel any remorse for their actions. A case in point would be when Pris was mutilating the spider in front of Isidore. The text mentions, “Pris clipped off another leg, restraining the spider with the edge of one hand. She was smiling” (206). From this quote, we can conclude that androids are not able to feel any empathy for creatures and they simply do not care if living creatures die. Naturally, a human would feel mortified for torturing an animal. Yet in this case, we see the opposite occur. What do you guys think about my definition of a “human”?

    • Joselin Campoverde

      It is interesting your definition of “human” as humans are capable of feeling empathy towards animals and human beings. However, what I really find interesting is that in the book, some characters can also behave like androids, meaning that they cannot feel remorse for their actions. This is shown through the character of Phil Resch. Throughout the novel we observe that Phil shows signs of being an android (he is cold, calculative, emotionless , and enjoys killing things), and further in the reading, it is more exibited when, without any compassion, he unmercifully kills Luba Luft. Yet he is a human according to the results of the Voigt-Kampff test. Phil’s character makes us think that when humans behave like androids, there is not so much difference between an android and a human being as they sometimes can act the same.

    • BkzDanny

      In a way, I agree with your definition of being “human”. The spider incident was a serious turning point for declaring whether or not the androids can be called human.

      Towards the beginning of the story, I would have considered the androids to be “human”. But after realizing the extent of the lack of empathy, through the spider scene, I can say that they aren’t human; or at least, humane. Although, that conclusion is based on what I currently believe, to be human.

      A lot about what we say is true or false has always been influenced by what society says. In the past, people can still be called human, even though slavery existed and was sought to be the way of life. Up until what point, did they say that slavery was inhumane?

      In retrospect, doing something inhumane in this society, may make the person “feel mortified”, but that may not have been the same case back then. In a sense, being human can mean to find something to see and accept as it is, and be able to tell yourself, “it’s not that bad”.

    • Duron Crichlow

      I would agree with that statement. After reading the that text again, I feel like that Pris is getting the wrong idea of having real emotions. If there is one thing I know what a human really is when it comes to emotions, it’s that humans know when to use them correctly.

  3. Sky Captaina - Alex S

    A real human is something that is impossible to create. A living being is random while at the same time orderly. It follows rules but can break or bend them as well. It grows and learns over time developing likes and dislikes. It is alone even when with other people but at the same time part of a group. Time has made it a necessity to be in a group to increase the passably of survival and to keep the race going. Anything that is made will not have this understanding to being with a group in order to live. At the same time it is a good thing, if advanced androids all over the earth and mars united together it would create a race that could threaten Humans. So it is better to have flawed children that will not kill the parents to inherit the throne. Machines are made to last a certain time, they are made with flaws because a perfect machine that will never break or will last forever is not something companies want. Also it is better if the flaw completely stops the machine from being useful so it would be replaced vs repaired, or for the repair to cost to much. This would lead to the need to buy new ones and the new ones can be “improved”. Many times they are improved and people want the next best thing because it is made. Other times companies make sub pare things to make it seem like an improvement was made. That is the other thing a human can not be replaced, it is a one time thing. There is no mark 2 or carbon copy. “”There is no Pris,” he said. “Only Rachael Rosen, over and over again”” (223, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

    • Ruben De La Cruz

      I see your point but Check this out! While some argue we were intelligently designed, other talk about natural selection being the origins to how we came to be the way we are today. This constant process of trial and error we see in nature is what made us so advanced yet unique. So lets ask why cant the androids do it?

      To answer my own question I think they can in this story. Now i’m not saying that Androids are literally reproducing and being tested for survival of the fittest but in the book we see examples of an evolution through androids. The idea that the Nexus 6 is the newest model most similar to humans can be haunting and that one day there will be a Nexus 7 is even more frighting. “On the test or otherwise. Everything that gives it a different quality. And then i report back and the association makes modification of its zygote-bath DNS factor. And we then have the Nexus-7. And when that gets caught, we modify again and eventually the association has a type that can’t be distinguished.”(190) While this is not evolution it is a trial and error process showing something nonhuman become human like. If androids keep becoming human like it has to get to a point where they are humans, unless their are literally an unlimited amount of human qualities we cant mimic. The desires and ambitions we have in this book really makes us question what does it take to be a human. The answer isn’t clear but at some point their will be no way to tell the difference.

      • Sky Captaina - Alex S

        There are somethings that just seem unlikely that a machine could understand. Empathy is one of them. No matter how much programming you put in a machine will not really love, understand feelings, care about something, and many other things. They follow logic paths set up to choose what to do based on what is going on around them. But they are naturally there, humans have devolved these paths themselves over the years of existing, no one when into our mind and set them up. Anything made lacks life, that one thing that can not be made. People have tried to make life in a bottle and even knowing everything that life needs in order to live it does not. There is something that can not be added by people to make something alive. Biological life is the only way to create new life. Machines will always lack that, they will get close but they will never reach it. it is not possible to create life of the same level as you, that would lead to doom so it is not possible. Humans can not create a life form at the same level as themselves and androids would not be able to create anything but themselves. They would not be able to recreate humans.

    • Rino

      Two things that struck me from your comment: 1) The idea that androids/machines are made with flaws in order to meet the supply and demand of consumers & 2) A person being a purely random entity that is unique and one of a kind.

      Being someone who used to be pursuing an engineering field, I’m well aware of the “limited shelf life” that designers take into account when producing goods; there’s a reason why people recommend changing your computer parts every 5 years, the parts were meticulously calculated to breakdown around that time under estimated use-times and environment simulations. However, wouldn’t you think that the andys know this and, through black market underground systems, make their own androids that are better versions of themselves and solve their issues? Do you think with this possibility, Rick and the other bounty hunters are being a preventative measure to the androids progression/evolution, stagnating their process which could eventually end with the androids seeking revenge on humanity when achieving perfection? (Which I now realize is slightly borrowed from Ruben’s comment, ah well.) To me that’s the true fear, when you get to the phase of self-replication with machines, coupled with sentience you get a vindictive metal army…

      Secondly, it’s interesting that you think humans are random, when I personally think people are pretty predictable, especially in the pattern of preferences and personalities. Like in Brave New World, everything could be monitored and produce people who are exactly the same when presenting the same stimuli, so that’s where the personality aspect could be reproduced; just simulate the events that led up to a person’s life through false memories and boom, you got yourself an androids with their own characteristics. And when it comes to likes and dislikes, ask yourself why do you like the things that you like? Deep down, we like the things we like because humans are a communal species that rely on one another, and so when you share commonality you can connect and thus ensure better odds of survival; so really, you like that one television show everyone else likes because subconsciously you want to be able to find people in common with you in order to sustain your existence and importance. Take for example Luba Luft, she took on her likes in theater and became a public figure because she thought she would be safe with humans when she shared a common interest with them (as Roy Baty said on p.158)

      At least that’s my input on these particularities…

      • Sky Captaina - Alex S

        The androids are improved from the the outside of their being vs humans that improve over generations. They are pushed out the door by human masters that use the information from bounty hunters to make a new version. They are not developing anything new themselves. It is an odd job to be a bounty hunter as seen with Rick having questions about why he does this job and if it is worth doing. The main reason he does it is because of the money. Now the big thing to ask is where does it come from. More then likely it is not the police department, for they would not have stock piles of money that they may never give out. So it must be kept elsewhere, such as a place that makes a lot of money. The only place we saw on earth that makes money is large amounts are the androids makers. it is a closed loop system, the androids are made, some run away, they make the bounty hunters go after them, and then they get data that they use to make more. This cycle can forced by making certain androids different or prototypes for the next models. They would be more advanced but at the same time they would be flawed. Leading back to the cycle. But the are not alive, they do not grow, they do what they were made to do, they are just complex machines that do more then current ones, but they are not developing because of themselves.

  4. Rino

    It’s a difficult question to define what being “human” means and, more-so, how it’s different than being replicated through androids. In many ways they are like us, evolving and adapting with every update that gets pushed out of the Rosen Company, are able to think about their own well-being (like their need to survive without being detected) and are also able to express themselves creatively, like in the case of Luba Luft. And honestly, I can’t argue that androids are as much human as an authentic human being in this novel’s context; given the right amount of time even beyond the scope of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (DADoES?) they will get to a point where they are nigh identical, practically replicated the blueprint of the human genome in circuits and motors.

    But, despite the possibility of being sympathetic to their plight, the andys are the bleak representation of the end of humanity. What we lose from achieving the simulation and replication of humanity ever closes the gap of human existence; because in DADoES? you are presented to a world where scarcity is treasured. The human race will not live forever, but if the androids are able to achieve our point of living and beyond, then they will be the remnants of a barren earth. Reflective to the endangered animals that are replicated with electric alternatives, humanity is endangered and is dying out Post-WWT. The novel drops us off in the middle of a storyline that ends much more lonely, on a planet earth inhabited solely by mimicry…

    • Ruben De La Cruz

      Valid point Rhino but I also feel that in the book human’s also risk something else by watching androids develop. If you remember last week when we spoke about Androids and what distinguishes them from humans, I brought up the idea that humans do not acknowledge living beings made for the purpose of being tools.
      We then got to the point that in a way Rick Deckard is a tool, if a tool or android were to become sentient and empathetic like us, then we could argue that we are simply complicated tools. What would separate an android and human is merely the fact that one has made the other, it makes us question our existence and identity, are we tools? what is our reason? what are we made for? I believe that robbing an android of its free will gives humanity a false sense of security, if you were to strip humans of this idea we would simply be biological tools capable of doing no more than an android can, or what some might call a tool.

      To conclude I think that humans have a deep fear of the possibility that our existence and creation is meaningless. Tools serve menial purposes, but when a tool wants to be a human we have to question are we just tools too. We fear the possibility that our life is as meaningful as a sentient object.

    • Ruben De La Cruz

      Valid point Rhino but I also feel that in the book human’s also risk something else by watching androids develop. If you remember last week when we spoke about Androids and what distinguishes them from humans, I brought up the idea that humans do not acknowledge living beings made for the purpose of being tools.
      We then got to the point that in a way Rick Deckard is a tool, if a tool or android were to become sentient and empathetic like us, then we could argue that we are simply complicated tools. What would separate an android and human is merely the fact that one has made the other, it makes us question our existence and identity, are we tools? what is our reason? what are we made for? I believe that robbing an android of its free will gives humanity a false sense of security, if you were to strip humans of this idea we would simply be biological tools capable of doing no more than an android can, or what some might call a tool.

      To conclude I think that humans have a deep fear of the possibility that our existence and creation is meaningless. Tools serve menial purposes, but when a tool wants to be a human we have to question are we just tools too. We fear the possibility that our life is as meaningful as a sentient object.

  5. Joselin Campoverde

    A major question that arises after reading Does Android Dream Of Electric Sheep? is of who are the masters and who are the slaves? You might consider that humas are the masters whereas the androids are the slaves since they were created by humans with the pupose of producing labor. However there is several scenes in the book where show that androids can be superior than humans as they can easily manipulate the individuals to their own convinience. Some of these examples are depicted through the android Rachel and the main protagonist, Rick, to whom she seduces and later uses to extract information about the fugitive androids. Another example is the one that appears between John Isidore and the android Pris Straton. Pris uses her intelligence and charm to take advantange of John and thus obtaining anything she asks for. Knowing the nobility and innocence of Isidore, Pris utilizes him as a way to protect herself from the bounty hunters.

    • Rino

      Going beyond humans being slaves to androids, humans are also slaves to Mercerism, Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends, the animals they care for, and the mood organ. Something that was not discussed much as well is that people on Earth are even slaves to the colonies on Mars. Rick is commissioned to be a bounty hunter through special interests of people from Mars and Isidore is barred from going to the colonies to not taint the remnants of humanities top echelon of people. The humans on Earth in DADoES? truly don’t seem to have free will, even though they believe that they do; they are either following ideologies from false idols or stimulating themselves with ersatz. And wouldn’t you think that free will constitutes some of the highest rights of humanity? The andys sure know how not being free must feel, maybe humans from Earth could “empathize” with them more…

    • Ghasan shahbain

      I think the question should of been who is the master in the near future . We know humans are the masters at the time the book mentioned. Who is the master ten years from that time. We see the company who created the most advanced robots has a robot on its leaders team which can bring up the question . Will andriods rule the world at some point during the future ?

  6. BkzDanny

    What I believe to be the general consensus of defining, what being human means, is to understand. Understanding is a loose term here because there are many people in this world who understand, but commit acts that are inhuman of them, or inhumane. And being humane, is a big part of being human. Being humane, means to accept and show benevolence to another, therefore, as long as someone can find in them self to accept another being, they realize what it means to be human.

    An android can be human. But not as of now. An android is none other than something that was created on this planet. It consists of circuitry and faux-skin. It can do things and tell us things, but it doesn’t think like a human would think. It’s simulated, in a streamline of code, that aids it into aiding us.

    But, imagine in the future when advance artificial intelligence can be created, such like Cortana from the Halo universe; Cortana has emotions for something that is not “strictly” human. In that universe, Cortana was created by a Doctor’s brain, a clone of the brain. She isn’t strictly human, but has the same mind of a human.

    Maybe our brains are the same as the codes that are being ran, inside of Cortana or an Androids mind. And throughout time, our minds have been, ever so perfected, to turn into something that we call human today. Maybe an Androids mind is on it’s way, the same way our minds were developed, into something that we will later call, human.

    • BkzDanny

      I forgot to include the book as well.

      Phil Resch, in the book, acts in a way, that we can call being an android, because he is heartless when it comes to killing androids. But is later proven to be human. The story also included that he has an animal of his own that he loves. This, is essentially saying that being human doesn’t strictly mean to love everyone, but to find ways to love something enough to call yourself human.

  7. Jill Belli

    Here’s an interesting article from yesterday’s ‘New York Times’:

    “The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator Conundrum’: Robots That Could Kill on Their Own”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/pentagon-artificial-intelligence-terminator.html

    Here’s an excerpt from the article: “Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.”

    Interesting, there is also this article, “A.I. Inspiration: The Science Fiction That Frames Discussion,” that looks at relevant SF texts: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/robots-science-fiction-movies-books.html

  8. Tajay

    Just like the Androids of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” this humanoid is personified with the human functions, more specifically, sweating. I thought this would be interesting for the class to see in the conclusion of the novel.

    https://youtu.be/AcIRtBHWv7c

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