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A Robotic Re-creation of Philip K. Dick

David Hanson is a part-time engineer, part-time artist and full-time lover of artificial intelligence. He, along with his robot reincarnation of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, made the rounds today at the APS March Meeting in Dallas.

["Phil," Hanson's robotic re-creation of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick propped up in the last row, startled passers-by with his human looks and his brain of wires.]

Hanson said he chose to make an analogue of Dick because, in his writings, Dick portrayed robots that came to life and thought they were human.

[Audience members turn to get a look at Phil, Hanson's robot that was propped up in the last row, who blended in with the rest of the crowd. On the screen at the front of the room is a photo of the original Phil who was accidentally left in an airplane overhead and lost forever, Hanson said.]

[Phil, Hanson's android that was propped up in the last row, appears to watch his creator's presentation during a morning session at the 2011 APS March Meeting.]

Creating Phil's skin was a challenge for Hanson.

"We found that solid rubber material just didn't have the same physics as facial soft tissue because facial soft tissue is mostly liquid." Hanson explained that when you touch your face, the liquid molecules in your skin rearrange themselves to move out of the way. When you touch rubber, it simply compresses. To make the robot's skin more realistic, Hanson created a new fluid-filled porous material he calls "frubber." The material helps the robot's expressions to be more accurate and realistic.

[In addition to Phil, Hanson has also created an Einstein robot.]

Though at a glance the robot didn't appear to have very soft skin, in fact, Phil's skin was alarmingly realistic. Think of a slightly-moist angel food cake or a cross between a memory-foam bed and a sponge. Phil made an appearance in the press room in the afternoon. Several journalists took turns squeaking and shrieking after delicately touching Phil's surprisingly human-like facial skin.

[One journalist takes a close-up of Phil on his smart phone.]

Hanson hopes that by 2020, robots will be at the same intelligence level as humans, able to do the same daily tasks that we do like cracking jokes and paying bills. To help spur on progress and meet his goal, Hanson created the Apollo Mind Initiative to promote collaboration between robot makers.

[Phil looked every bit like a human, until you saw the back of his head.]

If Hanson's dream comes true and robots are rivaling humans ten years from now, it's anyone's guess whether they remain peaceful co-inhabitants or whether they bring on the dreaded robot revolution. Which might it be? Perhaps Philip K. Dick can provide some insight...


  1. Usually robots are programmed to boomerang questions, and this robot can be a really good psychoterapist. :) He only reflects the environment, a real wise guy :)


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