We live in a Philip K. Dick dystopian future

#1
http://bostonreview.net/literature-cultu...ake-humans

EXCERPT: . . . Standard utopias and standard dystopias are each perfect after their own particular fashion. We live somewhere queasier—a world in which technology is developing in ways that make it increasingly hard to distinguish human beings from artificial things.

The world that the Internet and social media have created is less a system than an ecology, a proliferation of unexpected niches, and entities created and adapted to exploit them in deceptive ways. Vast commercial architectures are being colonized by quasi-autonomous parasites. Scammers have built algorithms to write fake books from scratch to sell on Amazon, compiling and modifying text from other books and online sources such as Wikipedia, to fool buyers or to take advantage of loopholes in Amazon’s compensation structure. Much of the world’s financial system is made out of bots—automated systems designed to continually probe markets for fleeting arbitrage opportunities. Less sophisticated programs plague online commerce systems such as eBay and Amazon, occasionally with extraordinary consequences, as when two warring bots bid the price of a biology book up to $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).

In other words, we live in Philip K. Dick’s future, not George Orwell’s or Aldous Huxley’s. Dick was no better a prophet of technology than any science fiction writer, and was arguably worse than most. His imagined worlds jam together odd bits of fifties’ and sixties’ California with rocket ships, drugs, and social speculation. Dick usually wrote in a hurry and for money, and sometimes under the influence of drugs or a recent and urgent personal religious revelation.

Still, what he captured with genius was the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together. As Dick described his work (in the opening essay to his 1985 collection, *I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon*):

The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again.

These obsessions had some of their roots in Dick’s complex and ever-evolving personal mythology [...]

In Dick’s books, the real and the unreal infect each other, so that it becomes increasingly impossible to tell the difference between them. The worlds of the dead and the living merge in *Ubik* (1969), the experiences of a disturbed child infect the world around him in *Martian Time-Slip* (1964), and consensual drug-based hallucinations become the vector for an invasive alien intelligence in *The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch* (1965). Humans are impersonated by malign androids in *Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?* (1968) and *“Second Variety”* (1953); by aliens in “The Hanging Stranger” (1953) and “The Father-Thing” (1954); and by mutants in “The Golden Man” (1954).

In Dick’s books, the real and the unreal infect each other, so that it becomes increasingly impossible to tell the difference between them.

This concern with unreal worlds and unreal people led to a consequent worry about an increasing difficulty of distinguishing between them. Factories pump out fake Americana in *The Man in the High Castle* (1962), mirroring the problem of living in a world that is not, in fact, the real one. Entrepreneurs build increasingly human-like androids in *Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?*, reasoning that if they do not, then their competitors will. Figuring out what is real and what is not is not easy. Scientific tools [...] do not work very well, leaving us with little more than hope in some mystical force—the I Ching, God in a spray can, a Martian water-witch—to guide us back toward the real.

We live in Dick’s world—but with little hope of divine intervention or invasion. The world where we communicate and interact at a distance is increasingly filled with algorithms that appear human, but are not—fake people generated by fake realities. When Ashley Madison, a dating site for people who want to cheat on their spouses, was hacked, it turned out that tens of thousands of the women on the site were fake “fembots” programmed to send millions of chatty messages to male customers, so as to delude them into thinking that they were surrounded by vast numbers of potential sexual partners.

These problems are only likely to get worse as the physical world and the world of information become increasingly interpenetrated in an Internet of (badly functioning) Things....

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“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'.”
― Philip K. Dick
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