Friday, September 16, 2005
The Origin of 'Mercer Machine'
Several people have asked me what the hell a mercer machine is. Good question.
It all started when I was, oh, eleven or twelve. It was when Blade Runner came out, in 1982. Even back then, they had movie tie-in novels. I picked up the Blade Runner tie-in novel (can still remember the cover, black with blood red lettering and the main characters in various poses from the movie. Below the title, however, in parentheses, was the subtitle “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and the author, Philip K. Dick.
Hollywood has really picked up on the Philip Dick phenomenon in recent years, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Minority Report, Screamers, Total Recall and Paycheck. But Ridley Scott was the first with Blade Runner.
How much any of these movies keeps to the spirit if not the letter of their literary parents is open to (intense) debate, but nevermind. We’re talking about the origin of the Mercer Machine.
In ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, the earth has pretty much killed off all its natural wildlife due to pollution and urban expansion (which is why, in the movie, the one stripper android is able to be tracked by her android snake’s shed scale—there ain’t no real snakes). Most people have in their dwellings what’s referred to as a Mercer Machine (so named for its creator).
What this machine does, basically, is amplify a person’s sense of empathy. Without any sort of flora or fauna, no puppy dogs or cute kittens, humanity is becoming more and more remote, emotionless, unempathetic. The line between androids and humans on an emotional level is getting very fine, with advances in android tech and the degradation of human emotion.
That’s what stuck with me from the book, the idea of a machine that would help us to remain human. And that’s one of the functions of the internet in general and this blog in particular for me.
Instead of becoming remote—a stranger in a strange land who looks different, thinks different, speaks different, acts different and so withdraws, this blog has allowed me, as a Westerner in Singapore, to gain an understanding of and to a certain extent even become a part of the fabric of the society of Singapore. I’m as grateful to blogging and the internet and personal computing as Harrison Ford’s character Deckard would have been to the Mercer Machine had they not cut that bit out of the movie.