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People 101

An android’s take on human behavior.
April 26, 2016

Ostensibly written by Android 0, How to Pass as Human: A Guide to Assimilation for Future Androids offers instructions and insights to help androids blend in effectively among humans. Android 0, aka Zach, begins the book at his “moment of activation” and describes in detail his subsequent 22-day journey to find his “father” and learn why he was created. He intersperses the narrative chapters with data-filled sections pertaining to humans’ social mores, emotions, and activities, which Zach feels will be of value to his android audience.

The book’s real author is indisputably human—he is Nic Kelman ’94, who majored in brain and cognitive science at MIT and has written three previous books as well as essays and screenplays. ­Kelman says he has always struggled to figure out why people do what they do. “I have a hard time understanding the majority of human beings, which is a characteristic I think a lot of MIT grads share,” he says, chuckling. “A lot of my work deals with what makes human beings human beings. This was just a comedic approach with a sci-fi spin on it.”

Because Zach is an android, as opposed to a robot, he is  “just as fragile as a human being,”  says Kelman. “He ... is capable of feeling anything we feel, capable of thinking anything we think.”

How to Pass as Human: A Guide to Assimilation for Future Androids
By Nic Kelman ’94
Dark Horse Books, 2015, $19.99

For the benefit of future androids, Zach compiles charts and graphs about how humans confront universal issues such as money, competition, art, rule-breaking, self-deception, and humor. They are presented as his own work, but Kelman says studies actually support many of Zach’s observations. “Maybe four out of five of the diagrams I found some actual real-world backing for,” he says. “There’s a lot more real information in the book than you might think.” One graph, for example, addresses the decline in humans’ understanding of body language over time as their use of technology increases. (Research from UCLA and from Connecticut College, among others, backs this up.) “Ironically, if you want to appear more human today, you should spend less time with actual human beings and more time online with their virtual presences,” Zach writes.

One of the purely fictitious graphs shows various religious groups’ tolerance levels for certain human behaviors, such as intoxication and sexual intercourse unrelated to reproduction. “That can’t be quantified; it’s kind of obviously made up,” says Kelman. Also invented—though it does ring true—is a flow chart on how to conduct an argument while in a relationship (from the box “Describe violation in angry tone to partner,” one arrow leads to “Partner justifies violation,” the other to “Partner apologizes”).

During Zach’s action-packed quest to discover who built him and for what purpose, he befriends Andrea (who becomes a love interest), escapes from perilous situations, and tries to understand people so that he can emulate them and thereby conceal his true identity. In ruminating over what he sees and how he feels, he gives his non-android readers insights into their own species.


Recent Books From the MIT Community

From Little’s Law to Marketing Science: Essays in Honor of John D.C. Little
Edited by John R. Hauser ’73, SM ’73, PhD ’75, professor of marketing, and Glen L. Urban, professor emeritus of marketing, dean emeritus, and chairman of the MIT Center for Digital Business
MIT Press, 2016, $55

FastLane: Managing Science in the Internet World
By Thomas J. Misa ’81 and Jeffrey R. Yost
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015, $34.95

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception
By Robert J. Shiller ’68, PhD ’72, and George A. Akerlof
Princeton University Press, 2015, $24.95

Constructing Dynamic Triangles Together: The Development of Mathematical Group Cognition
By Gerry Stahl ’67
Cambridge University Press, 2015, $110

Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment, and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again
By Erik Fogg ’09, SM ’09, and Nathaniel Greene
MidTide Media, 2015, $16.99

Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing
By Beth Simone Noveck, visiting professor, program in media arts and sciences
Harvard University Press, 2015, $29.95

Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies
Edited by Steven E. Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, and Karoly Nikolich
MIT Press, 2015, $50

Please submit titles of books and papers published in 2015 and 2016 to be considered for this column.


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