Los Angeles, November 2019
Bursts of flames rise from silhouetted buildings. In the distance, the city skyline is dense with smog, twinkling with dots of orange, yellow and red. A pair of headlights approaches and a flying car whooshes past the screen.
So begins Riley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi, neo-noir epic Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the stunning visual landscape and discussions on humanity amid vast corporatization, artificial intelligence slave labor and a rapidly changing technological world give Blade Runner textual richness.
Set in an alternative future Los Angeles in which synthetic humans known as replicants, or skinjobs, are used and engineered by the Tyrell Corporation for labor in off-world colonies, there are many things Blade Runner got right when envisioning what technological advances may become commonplace.
As we reach the end of November, let’s look at how the technology in Blade Runner resembles ours.
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If Tesla’s new Cybertruck looks like something straight out of science fiction, well, that’s because it is. CEO Elon Musk, still riding high from his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience apparently, took influence from Blade Runner, specifically the Spinner flying cars designed by Syd Mead, when creating his silver machine. As far as flying cars, we haven’t quite reached the capability yet, but that’s not to say companies aren’t trying. Terrafugia, Aeromobil and others are currently developing their own prototypes for flying cars.
Smart homes/Virtual assistants
When Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) enters his home, he is asked for his voice print identification, to which he responds, “Deckard 97.” Smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have become seemingly ubiquitous, allowing us to adjust the thermostat, dim the lights, order a pizza and queue up the latest episode of Black Mirror without ever leaving our seats.
Although photographs play an integral part in Blade Runner, namely for deciphering clues as Deckard seeks out other replicants and examining Rachael’s (Sean Young) back story, they’re not as ever-present now as they were in the movie. Most photographs are taken using our smartphones (an invention ignored in Blade Runner) and plastered on Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms. Polaroid cameras are more of a novelty, as is the Atari video game system—although an Atari VCS throwback console is set for release in 2020.
Our level of artificial intelligence hasn’t quite reached a Nexus 6 replicant of the Blade Runner world, which is “virtually identical to human,” but we do have human-like robots such as Hanson Robotics’ Sophia. Not to mention, MIT recently developed a robot that can understand human context, meaning it can deduce human requests, at a limited level, through assumptions. We’re far from AI experiencing love, vengeance and morality, as in Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” monologue, but let’s check back in 2049.