After reading Phillip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I couldn’t help but be reminded by the 1999 film BicentennialMan directed by Chris Columbus.
The film was about an android designed to serve humans, but overtime he gradually gained human-like qualities such as emotion and having creative thoughts. Andrew was solely purchased to be a household robot programmed to perform menial tasks, but became much more than that to the Martin family.
Here is the movie trailer (it'll really take you back):
The film raises the question of acceptance of the real and the artificial, and how one is more accepted than the other (real is preferred, aka, being human). The idea that an android could possess human-like qualities, so much, that by applying skin and a humanly appearance one could never tell a difference is a scary thought. It is scary because one might question who is actually human and who is an android—kind of hits the line of fear of the unknown. Hence, why throughout the film the creators of Andrew want to destroy him, but for those that know him & have built a relationship with him, they want him to “live” slash not be deactivated and probed back to a reprogrammed machine.
The whole debate over humans and androids is a slippery slope and scary topic for me, because I prefer the “real” meaning I prefer to be surrounded by people that can bleed and have the same physical reactions as me: for example if you were being sliced in half I’d be a bit concerned if wires came out—that to me proves a person isn’t real (if they don’t bleed, to simplify it). The same sort of thing happened when Deckard found the toad at the end of the novel; in order for it to be real it couldn’t have wires inside it/an on and off switch.
I find it interesting how the novel ended with Deckard finding a toad, and being unraveled by the fact that it could potentially be the last living toad. The idea that it was believed to be extinct, but there on the edge of the Oregon Coast in the desert he found this toad out of nowhere—it had to have been real in his mind, because if it were electric someone must have gone out of their way to put it there and that didn’t seem likely to him. The fact that he puts it in a box, and brings it home to his wife and is so ecstatic about finding something so real is fascinating because it raises the question of why do we care so much about something that is real? If it does the same thing, and functions just as well as something that is “real” what is wrong with it? The lack of authenticity does not take away from what is can do. For instance, even though it wasn’t a “real” toad, it still hopped, it still ate bugs, and moved like a toad, but since it had an on/off switch that made it impure/not real. The same question can be raised about Andrew being an Android from the film, what was so wrong with him being an android if he could do everything humans could, and was gradually obtaining more humanly attributes?
Throughout the film Bicentennial Man Andrew strived to become more “real” by becoming a human. He went to extremes by getting fake skin and humanly features made for him by humans that did that for a living. What made it so wrong to be an android that had humanly qualities but wasn’t “really” an actual human? Was he real even though he had an on/off switch?
It has been a long time since I have seen the film in its entirety, but from what I can remember I think he always remains an android, he just changes his outward appearance to look like a human. He then goes off to live a normal human life, meaning, he gets a career, a wife, and a house on the beach. I would argue he isn’t a real human, but due to his functionality he is a real thing, just not entirely human.