Woke up this morning to a posting on William Gibson's blog that the Philip K Dick robot had gone missing.
Wait. "What Philip K Dick robot?" I hear you ask...
Hanson Robotics has made an android replica of the classic science fiction author (who, incidentally, died on my birthday in 1982). It's fascinating stuff - the robot talks, moves, and reacts to other people's body language as well as what they say to him. Apparently he's almost passable as a fairly senile human being who likes to quote PKD novels.
Apparently, the PKD robot was on his way to California... and he got lost. Oops!
Because the Gibson link's to a page that will be subscription only in a few days, here's the text:
February 13, 2006 - 12:43PM
Philip K Dick is missing.
Not the American science fiction writer whose novels spawned hit films such as Blade Runner and Total Recall -- he died more than 20 years ago -- but a state-of-the-art robot named after the author.
The quirky android, was lost in early January while en route to California by commercial airliner.
"We can't find Phil," said Steve Prilliman of Dallas-based Hanson Robotics, which created the futuristic robot with the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis, the Automation and Robotics Research Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington and Dick's friend Paul Williams.
"We're very worried because it's been a few weeks now," said Prilliman. "We're pressing hard to find Phil."
Robotics wizard and lead designer David Hanson built the robot as a memorial to Dick, whose 1968 book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired the 1982 classic Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford.
Short stories by Dick, who died in 1982, served as inspiration for other hit films including the 1990 Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the 2002 Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.
In Blade Runner, set in a Los Angeles of 2019, Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckhard, a Blade Runner or policeman whose job is to track down and terminate escaped human clones known as "replicants."
The irony of the situation -- a missing replica of the very author who championed "replicant" freedom -- is not lost on Phil's creators.
But they still want him back.
"We really need to find him soon because the Smithsonian wants to put him in a travelling collection in the autumn," said Prilliman referring to Washington's Smithsonian Institute, an organisation of museums and art galleries.
Along with an eerie likeness to the author, the robot features award-winning artificial intelligence that mimics the writer's mannerisms and lifelike skin material to affect realistic expressions.
Top-of-the-line voice software loaded with data from Dick's vast body of writing allows the robot to carry on natural-sounding conversations, although it does come off as a bit doddering at times.
Biometric-identification software and advanced machine vision allows the robot to recognise people -- even in a crowd -- read their expressions and body language and talk to them sounding a lot like a normal, albeit slightly senile, author who likes to quote his own books when he gets confused.
Prilliman and others close to Phil baulked at giving too many details about his disappearance including the name of the airline that was transporting the robot when he went missing.
Hanson officials said news of Phil's disappearance could hamper the ongoing investigation and search for the robot.
The company officials said they feared ransom demands might be made or Phil could turn up listed for sale on an internet auction house such as eBay.
A spokeswoman, Elaine Hanson, said the company is considering building a new android if the original Phil does not turn up.
(Edited to make a URL work because it didn't.)
(Edited by Chienne at 11:06 am on Feb. 15, 2006)