…we stand between the Nexus-6 and mankind, a barrier which keeps the two distinct.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ballantine Books, New York, 1968, at page 141

A devastating nuclear war has triggered a mass extinction of animals and blanketed much of Northern California with radioactive dust. Most survivors have emigrated to off-world colonies, encouraged by the promise of a fresh start and a personal android to assist them with settling into their new environment. 

Some androids, however, have dreams of their own. Following a bloody rebellion, eight intellectually superior models have made their way to Earth in search of a better life, hiding in plain sight amongst the remaining human population. The only one standing in their way is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter hired by the San Francisco Police Department to detect, and terminate, rogue androids.

Phillip K. Dick’s novel is a rich tapestry of philosophical ideas about the legal regulation of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human in the face of AI. Deckard realizes that the line between humanity and AI has blurred irrevocably as he develops romantic feelings for one of the next-generation androids.

Through the creation of false memories in AI, Dick considers the malleability of our own memory, and the fragility of identity when memory is manipulated or destroyed. Dick also encourages us to untangle our identity from our possessions and recognize the extent to which our actions are driven by concerns about what others think of us.

The androids’ limited four-year life span serves as a reminder of the transience of life. Their desire to seek fulfilment echoes our ambition to realize our aspirations before our little time is used up.

Other considerations

-      Dick’s novel was the basis for Ridley Scott’s landmark science fiction film Blade Runner (1982) and Denis Villeneuve’s worthy sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

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