Do Androids of Electric Sheep: The Concept of Empathy in Robots

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The main theme of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is empathy. Empathy, according to Merriam-Webster, “is the action of understanding and vicariously experiencing the thoughts, feelings and experiences of another.” The author develops a special test that is known throughout the book as the Voight-Kampff test. Voight-Kampff Testing involves asking a potential suspect a series of questions and recording their responses. These questions will measure the suspect’s empathic responses to certain stimuli. The bounty hunters look for things like involuntary pupil dilation, eye movements, blushing, monitor the suspect’s heart rate, and respirations. If the test subject fails, they are labeled as an android and will be “retired.” They use the term retire instead of kill in regards to the android, because it is impossible to kill something that is essentially not alive. I believe both IQ and Voight-Kampff tests are not accurate and innocent people are being classified and killed for something they are not.

In the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, written by Phillip K. Dick, presents a great amount of mind stimulating topics. Set in post-apocalyptic San Francisco after World War Terminus has destroyed most human, plant, and animal life, via a radioactive dust cloud. Due to the nuclear fallout surviving humans have emigrated to Mars to start a new life. Colonist on Mars have created human like androids to be used as slaves for the humans. A few of these androids rebel, kill their masters, and return to earth to seek refuge. A bounty hunter, Rick Deckard is enlisted to find these androids and kill them. However, determining humans from android does not prove to be an easy task.

Furthermore, androids are perfect replicas of humans and make it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. Through the process of Voight-Kampff testing bounty hunters think can determine between androids and humans. Voight-Kampff testing involves asking a potential suspect a series of questions and recording their responses. If a person fails, the test they are labeled as an android. Unfortunately, this results to them getting killed by bounty hunters, like Rick Deckard, who administers the test.

As the testing of any form, there is always room for failure or false positive results Voight-Kampff testing may prove to be false for a few reasons. One of those reasons is due to Mercerism. Mercerism is a religion used to teach empathy and a sense of community amongst its followers. It uses a visual picture of Willbur Mercer struggling up a hill while rocks or boulders are coming down onto him. These images are known as an empathy box to evoke this emotion. Therefore, it can teach empathy to androids making the test unreliable and harder to determine an android from a human.

Another reason why the Voight-Kampff testing will fail is in the case of schizophrenics, for someone who lack the ability to be empathetic. Although the schizophrenic person is human, his test results will skew in the direction of an android creating a false positive result. These false positive results could mean bounty hunters end up killing innocent people. Some schizophrenics are known to lack empathy. I believe Rick has tested some humans who suffered from schizophrenia and failed the test because their results are the same as the androids.

Due to these false positives humans can be mistaken for androids, resulting in bounty hunters killing innocent people. Most of the questions asked by Rick, are scenarios involving animals. This makes it kind of hard for subjects to give an empathetic response because not everyone cares about animals. Ricks questions also makes the test seem biased towards nonanimal lovers.While Rick was testing Racheal Rosen, he was easily persuaded into thinking Racheal had trouble displaying empathy to questions about animals. I am sure he did not take this into consideration with the previous humans he has tested, which resulted in their deaths.

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Rachel Rosen who is an android, is capable of understanding empathy. Rachel demonstrated human traits such as manipulation when it came to the bounty hunter Rick Deckard, and trying to prevent him from trying to kill her. She manipulated Rick into thinking she was sexually attracted to him in the same way he was to her. She even had Rick reconsider on staying in a relationship with his wife, Iran. These examples prove the Voight-Kampff is not capable of depicting an android from a human. I am also convinced some android models were created to develop feelings.

Rick believes humans can care for one another, but androids do not have the ability to care about other androids. Rick’s theory is disproven for three reasons because first, androids Pris, Roy, and Irmgard stuck together to keep each other safe in the apartment. Second, Roy and Irmgard are in a relationship. Finally, these three androids a did not kill Isidore because he wanted to help them survive; I believe they did this because they felt empathy for him. If androids truly did not empathize for one another Pris, Roy, or Irmgard would have given the bounty hunters a tip and saved their self. If Rick had to test these androids, I am certain Rick would assume they are humans just because they care about each other. Even if he would have assessed the test they would have passed just because they were androids that had empathy.

As I read deeper into the story, I realized many humans were forced to remain on Earth because they did not pass the IQ test. John Isidore was one of the many who is referred to as a “chicken head” throughout the book. I do not believe these IQ tests are authentic because John Isidore shows no symptoms of having a disability. John Isidore is capable of living on his own and maintaining a steady job. I do not think radiation could affect a human instantly. I believe it happens over time.

IQ testing was assessed on the surviving humans on Earth before they could emigrate to Mars. If some people did not score high like John Isidore were classified as a chicken head. Chicken heads are described as people who have been severely affected mentally by the radioactive dust. The radioactive waves come from World War Terminus. Since these radioactive waves, chicken heads have been deemed too stupid to reproduce because the radiation has deteriorated their mind. Giving them a negative reputation. Therefore, they are not welcomed as they cannot re-populate the new colony on Mars.

In chapter seven of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, John mistakes a real cat for a mechanical cat and ends up killing it. When he brought the cat to his boss, Mr. Sloat, he thought it was a mechanical cat too. When he realized it was an actual cat, he blamed John’s disorder of being a chicken head for the cat’s death. Therefore, I believe the IQ test are a big sham because Mr. Sloat thought the cat was a robot too but does not think twice about himself possibly being a chicken head. John made a simple mistake because the robotic animals look so realistic. Matter of fact, it had nothing to do with John being a chicken head.

The IQ testing can also classify people as chicken heads by mistake in my opinion. Recall the definition of a chicken head, it was someone who lacked mental faculties because of the radiation. Which leaves me to wonder what happens in the case of people with developmental disabilities such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome? I believe society in the novel overlook people with major disabilities. There could be a possible chance of society killing them off like androids.

Maybe certain people are labeled as chicken heads because their test results come back showing they are not easily manipulated. What I mean by this is they would probably see androids as actual people and would not want them to be their slaves on Mars. I think they would also see more to life than owning a real animal. In a way, I believe Voight-Kampff testing and IQ testing is used as population control. Maybe that is why World War Terminus happened because the government, in the book, tried producing android slaves on Earth but so many people were against it. Therefore, everyone had to move to planet Mars.

In conclusion with all the facts listed above. I believe Voight-Kampff testing is not reliable enough to determine if a human is an android based off their empathy. I also do not think the IQ test is able to determine if a human suffers from the effects of radiation. Testing someone based off looking for things like involuntary pupil dilation, eye movements, blushing and even monitoring the suspect’s heart rate and respirations is not effective enough. This has possibly resulted in innocent people dying and being labeled as chicken heads.

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