The life of author Philip K. Dick sounds like the plot of it's own science fiction movie. The celebrated writer, who's work would become movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, predicted a staggering list of technological advancements including artificial intelligence, cloning, the surveillance state, virtual reality decades before their existence before suffering a breakdown of paranoia and hallucinations. More than thirty years after his death, Dick’s relevancy has only grown as the future he predicted for technology becomes more real. While the short stories and novels that he wrote during his brief life inspired some of the most important science fiction films over, his warnings about humanity's relationship with technology prove that Dick was the closest thing to a futurist prophet that the world has ever seen.
Publishing in the 60s and 70s, Dick's writing touched on everything from the scientific breakthroughs of cloning and artificial intelligence, to global warming and online gaming to the growing digital asphyxiation. Dick saw a future of possibilities in which these advancements would allow mankind to live their wildest dreams but at a devastating price. Maybe he was right.
Philip K. Dick was at his most prescient when writing about artificial intelligence. His famous 1968 short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which director Ridley Scott later turned into the movie Blade Runner) dealt with the ways in which intelligence created to mimic humanity would eventually take on its own consciousness until it was indistinguishable from humanity itself.
In a speech given in 1972 Dick proposed a scenario where living humans and those created with artificial intelligence would lose track of who was who. We're not there yet, but as people begin to seek out a connection with AI chatbots and robots learn to lie it feels like Dick's proposed scenario is closer than we think.
The virtual and wholly immersive world imagined by Dick in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep's "Empathy Box," is one where the user can no longer differentiate their virtual world from reality. In another Dick story, 1965's The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, humans escape the real world by chew a psychedelic drug that allows them to project themselves into a popular virtual world until the realities begin to blur.
Today, companies such as Oculus Rift are creating virtual reality experiences that can transport users to a realistic spacewalk over Earth or straight into Minecraft and online gaming is a $30 billion dollar industry. Dick's dream is still ahead of modern technology, but the world he envisioned seems to be on the horizon.
The androids of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? may not be "clones" per se, but they mimic human life in a way that asks whether or not there's anything more human than being more human than human. In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, people have undergone expensive genetic therapy in hopes of speeding up their evolution.
While cloning feels like something that's more science fiction than science fact, scientists have created an embryo in a lab without using an egg or sperm, suggesting that human cloning could soon become of a way of life. Meanwhile, MIT declared 2017 "The Year of Gene Therapy Breakthroughs." You may not be able to live forever, but an exact replica of your genetic structure could walk and talk some day, giving you a form of immortality.
In The Minority Report, a short story adapted into a feature length film by Stephen Spielberg, Dick imagines a future where the police solve crimes with the help of three psychic "mutants" called pre-cogs that can see weeks into the future. These pre-cog babble incoherent speech which is transcribed into a possible future. When the pre-cogs see a crime, specifically a murder, the police arrest the perpetrator before the crime can happen. In another Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly, later made into a movie with Robert Downey Jr and Keanu Reeves, policemen use "scramble suits" to alter their identities and an arsenal of technological tools to spy on citizens.
Police forces can not see into the future yet, but police and federal agencies are becoming more adept at using technology to keep a watch on citizens in an effort to keep the crime rate down. The Huffington Post reports that the NYPD is using a Microsoft program to "allow police to quickly collate and visualize vast amounts of data from cameras, lisente plate readers, 911 calls, police databases and other sources." This information is then used in real time by the police who can monitor suspects all the while trying to stop crime before it happens.
Dick also predicted that our reliance on technology would leave us susceptible to being spied on. He is quoted as saying: “There will come a time when it isn't 'They're spying on me through my phone' anymore. Eventually, it will be 'My phone is spying on me'.” Sound familiar?