One of the first works of science fiction to feature self-replicating artificial intelligence was Philip K. Dick’s short story “Autofac.” In a post-apocalyptic future, an automated factory continues to send out consumer goods to human survivors, regardless if they want them or not. Ironically or not, the contemporary real-world version of Autofac — a factory that can deliver anything — is probably Amazon, who also serves as the producer of the new science fiction anthology series, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Actress Juno Temple stars in the adaptation of “Autofac” for the series. She spoke to Inverse on Friday — the day the series launched — about her feelings about politics, artificial intelligence, and the importance of science fiction for the future of the human race.
Spoilers ahead for episode 2 of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, “Autofac.”
Though the “Autofac” episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is true to the spirit of the original story, it changes many of the character details. This also includes adding a giant twist ending in which all the characters find out that they are robot replacements of themselves, created by Autofac to fulfill the need to have more human consumers after the entire human race is eradicated. Temple plays Emily Zabriskie, a character who believes she is the survivor of a nuclear blast but is actually a robot simulacrum of the “real” Emily Zabriskie, a Jeff Bezos- esque tycoon who created the Autofac in the first place. Essentially, Zabriskie is reborn as the robot Emily, and when that happens, has a total change of heart about the oppressive monolithic automated corporation she created.
Temple, a celebrated actress known for her roles in Atonement and Black Mass, was relatively new to the genre of science fiction. But she took to the challenge with excitement and with a full grasp of the import of the Philip K. Dick’s cautionary style. Even if she hadn’t read him beforehand.
Were you interested in Philip K. Dick’s short stories before this?
Sci-fi is something I’m new too. I had watched some sci-fi. But I wasn’t aware of Philip K. Dick’s short stories. I consider myself something of a technophobe, I’ve never been good with computer or cellphones. But, after I read this script, I got into a wormhole of reading about A.I. And I really started thinking about what a robot who believed it was human would go through and I was fascinated. I wanted to a challenge of playing one thing but really being another.
How did you approach playing a character who was essentially, two characters?
With the Emily you’re seeing the most, she’s aware. So, in a way, she’s where all the different versions of her are combined. The Emily from the past — who she’s based on, the real human Emily — is figuring out everything — but she can’t reveal anything because that would destroy her whole plan.
What does Emily’s journey mean to you?
It’s the idea of being someone who has changed. There’s an awakening for Emily, when she realizes she is derived from the person who created the Autofac, meaning she is the reason for the destruction of the human planet. So, in a political sense, it’s kind of a political rebirth. I mean, everyone has their own view of politics. But it’s undeniable that your opinion can change. And part of that is experiencing what politics can do to the planet and the human race. So, Emily is someone who started looking at life from a certain point of view, created this monumental beast and then, she comes back to life as a person who wants to take down her original self. It’s a redemption that we don’t see enough of in today’s politics, unfortunately.
Why is the story important to you?
I came from a very green family. A family that really, really believes in the planet, and believes in recycling. Huge advocates of Greenpeace. So I grew up with that around me. So, I was able to use that when playing Emily. Because that’s what this was about. Saving the planet, but also, thinking about the entire solar system.
Would you jump at another science fiction project?
Definitely, I would like to attempt [science fiction] again. I think it’s a subject matter you might not get right the first time. As technology is evolving today, I think sci-fi is a subject that is constantly going to challenge us. It feels very important to today’s culture. I would definitely give it another go.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is currently streaming on Amazon.