It's useful to understand HBO's Westworld as an extension of Phillip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Most of Dick's novels involve the nature of reality in relation to perception, and how that informs identity.
A major feature of Dick's book, and BladeRunner, is a form of Turing Test (Voight-Kampff) to which humans are subjected to determine if they are replicants.
At a certain point, Deckard, the hero, begins to question whether he is human or an android. (This is never fully made clear in the book, and Deckard's wife's alienation from him may indicate his non-human status. The film adaptation similarly raises this question over potentially implanted memories, which would mark Deckard as a replicant, even though the director reversed course and later stated otherwise.)
Westworld continues this idea where there are characters who turn out to be definitively androids, such as the Man in Black, who, presumably, has had artificial memories created, and believes he is "real". BladeRunner 2049 also involves this theme, which could be said to be the "unreliability of memory" in relation to experience and identity. Even in mundane circumstances, two humans can remember the same event differently!
- The point of the Electric Sheep hypothesis is ambiguity—we can only validate our own qualia, and even that is not entirely reliable due to the nature of perception and subjectivity.
The novel ends with Deckard finding a frog in the ashes, and initially thinking it is real. It turns out to be robotic, but Deckard ultimately decides it doesn't really matter.
- This is important because empathy is the main theme, and altruistic behavior in nature is supported by evolutionary game theory.
The central plot device is that replicants don't have empathy, a design flaw that becomes a "feature not a bug" in that it keeps replicants from banding together to overthrow their oppressors. But the new generation of Nexus androids are intelligent enough to develop empathy naturally.
Dick was a Christian philosopher who worked mainly in popular narrative and believed empathy is a natural function of intelligence sufficiently advanced.
- If the suffering witnessed by an entity appears real, but we cannot validate that entity's qualia, is it a moral imperative to make a Pascal's Wager?
i.e. err on the side of caution and compassion, just in case the entity is conscious.
- If altruistic behavior is expressed by an algorithm, is that altruism invalid?