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The Concept of Empathy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a Novel by Philip K. Dick

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Empathy in Technology

In the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick we see the prominent theme of empathy reoccur throughout. I wanted to research this concept of empathy and the importance it has within humans. I also wanted to see the arguments being made amongst people in regards to whether or not empathy in technology is beneficial and even evident at all. The plot of the novel we read incorporates an empathy box and asks the tell all question of whether or not it is solely a human ability to feel. The humans within the story believe that the main difference between them and the androids has to do with this ability. However, later on in the story we learn that the new androids that come out are able to grasp and master their own feelings of empathy. This confusion of whether or not technological beings do indeed feel empathy that stems from the plot allows the reader to think and analyze whether empathy is solely a human ability after all. My mission is to research empathy in technology while also looking at the importance of having empathy as a whole.

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Empathy in technology is a hard thing to understand. The idea may be ridiculous to some but for others, it’s not hard to deny the positive benefits. In the novel, Rick grows upset and starts to resent his electric sheep because of its lack of being able to feel real empathy. Through Rick’s view, the author writes, “He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another.” (42). Even though Rick cares for his sheep, he wants to be able to have that care reciprocated back.

As I mentioned before, empathy in technology is tough to grasp. One article I found informative that perfectly described the relationship between the two was titled, “Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Empathy through Gaming – Perspective Taking in a Complex World” written by Liz Boltz. This article tackled my interest in empathy through technology as well as the importance of empathy in 21st century learning. In the article according to Davis, it is said that, “Engaging in empathy can cause our mental models of self and other to overlap, making us less likely to ascribe stereotypes to others” (Davis 2). There is no denying that the compassion humans’ share is universal and plays an important role in conflict resolutions. As for empathy through technology, the article does an excellent job in broadening our understanding in regards to the topic. In the same article, videogames are also mentioned in regards to technology. “Videogames provide situated, action-oriented, embodied experiences.” (Gee 3). This article argues that there is empathy present in technology. For example, in videogames, we base our decisions over the emotions we feel just as we do in reality. The values that humans learn in videogames can be crucial to self-development and the future of a human’s life. “Videogames therefore offer “a functional, or pragmatic, way of knowing, because we make meaning through interacting directly with the world and observing our actions’ consequences” (Squire, 2011, p. 143). Through technology, we see empathy being promoted as an important part of cognition and human development. This relates to author, Dick’s, work in the sense that technology is shown in the androids within the story and is not just solely a human ability.

I agree with the argument that the first few authors make about how empathy is prevalent in technology through a positive way. I believe that empathy is prevalent in technology and through a beneficial way. This argument of mine is backed up through the novel. Luba Luft was the character in our novel that ignited my personal thoughts on empathy in technology. The character of Luba Luft showed significance by showing empathy and an appreciation towards the world. Even though she was an android, she had many human qualities…way more than she was supposed to. Although she shows empathy, she knows she is not human. “”You?” Luba Luft said. “You’re not human. No more than I am: you’re an android, too.” An interval of silence passed and then Phil Resch said in a low but controlled voice, “Well, we’ll deal with that at the proper time.”” (132). Rick gradually changed as a person with his feelings and empathy because of Luba Luft. He has her to thank for that.

Counter-arguing the statement made above, Eugenia A. Ives further examines the social cognitive effects of digital technology. In her article, iGeneration: The Social Cognitive Effects of Digital Technology on Teenagers, a study is conducted to determine the detrimental effects digital technology may have with emotions in humans. The argument is made that there is no empathy in technology and if anything, “ striking negative effect of digital technology consumption is how it diminishes our capacity for empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another. The addictive qualities associated with digital consumption and cyber usage is gaining prominence as a serious concern.” (Ives). In the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we see evidence of humans becoming less humane because of their lack of empathy. This illustrates the limitation of engagement described through the article by showcasing how important it is to communicate and not rely merely on technology for empathy. Therefore, we attribute empathy to humans and tie the two together. On the other hand, when it comes to technology, we don’t really associate empathy and it together. Though, it’s important to remember that humans are definitely capable of a loss of empathy, as Ives mentions in her text.

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In conclusion, the viewpoints of the authors from my sources both make valid points. From comparing the two, I learned how technology has the ability to play many roles in humans’ lives. The analysis I conducted also furthered my knowledge on the importance of technology as a whole. Not only does technology play an important role in humans’ lives but it also has the power to change and challenge emotions. Overall, my understanding for the topic at hand has definitely evolved. Technology is both beneficial and detrimental in humans and their response to empathy. Empathy has no doubt become necessary to the survival of humankind and technology has a lot to contribute to that.

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