It’s 2015, Where Are the Replicants?

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So it’s not quite 2019 yet, but we’re getting awfully close.  If detectives are going to be hunting down rogue replicants four years from now, there should probably be some signs.  In Blade Runner, 2019 looks pretty grim, and Ridley Scott and his team did their best to create a world where the trends of 1982 played out and led to some pretty scary results.  Predicting what’s going to happen in 37 years is no easy feat though, and as with all science fiction, some things came true and others didn’t. Now that we’re not far from the year when Deckard is scheduled to have his life saved by a replicant, let’s take a look at these predictions and determine which ones have turned out true and which ones are still science fiction.

Predicting the future is one of the most interesting aspects of the science fiction genre. Since the dawn of movies, filmmakers have used their visions of the future to captivate and inspire their audiences or scare them and warn them of what might happen.  The end goal of science fiction isn’t necessarily to be accurate with these predictions, but as humanity advances, some of these ideas are coming true.

Movielinx 2015 Final

This week we’re continuing our series with Blade Runner. Here are ten things the movie predicted and an analysis of where the technology was then and where we are now.


1.) Computers in Cars

Screen in Car

Throughout Blade Runner, there are computers in cars.  Deckard uses one to watch and rewatch the murder video that helps him proceed in the case and the police use one to look up suspects.  In the movie, they are built into the dash and look like mini-television screens.

Where were we in 1982?
Computers in the 80s were still massive, boxy things.  The Apple II was released in 1977 as the first home computer to even come pre-built in a plastic frame.  They certainly needed to be plugged in, and moving them took some effort.  Maybe more importantly, graphical user interfaces (as opposed to having to type commands), weren’t commercialized and becoming common until 1984.  Putting computers in cars might have been possible, but it was highly impractical.

Where are we today?
Computers are now in just about every car in some form or another, whether they’re guiding you with GPS features, enhancing your radio, or simply controlling some of your car’s internals.  Police can look up all sorts of information on the fly, and watching videos on in-car TVs is practically old technology already.

Did this prediction come true?  YES.


2.) Genetic Designers

Sebastian and toys

In the movie, J.F. Sebastian is a genetic designer and creates living beings as a job.  His house is full of strange, artificially built “toys” that are designed at a genetic level.  His boss, Dr. Tyrell, has taken things even further and is creating beings that are identical to humans.  When Roy goes to see him, Tyrell even asks him if he’d like to be modified.

Where were we in 1982?
By 1982, we had figured out how to determine the sequence of DNA and were developing methods for mapping its structure.  In 1980, the first patent was filed for gene cloning and we were able to clone a plasmid and produce genetically engineered human insulin.  Modifying people was still pure science fiction.  

Where are we today?
In 2003, we finished mapping the human genome and we’re technically capable of cloning humans and creating artificial organs though the legalities of it are still highly contested.  If you’re willing to pay a lot of money and find a doctor willing to do it, we can even choose certain traits for our children before they’re born.  It isn’t a stretch to say that those doctors are the genetic designers of our times.  Modifying a full grown adult isn’t possible yet, but we’re pretty darn close to what Blade Runner predicted on this one.

Did this prediction come true?  ALMOST. 


3.) Artificial Animals

Owl

Animals in general are almost completely extinct in Blade Runner’s vision of the future.  Dr. Tyrell shows off an artificially created owl when Deckard comes to see him, and an artificial snake is a major key in Deckard’s case.  Throughout the film, there is talk of real animals being exorbitantly expensive, and at least one character doesn’t even know what a tortoise is!

Where were we in 1982?
Well, there were still plenty of animals around in the 80s, but scientists were already warning of rapidly increasing extinction rates.  Since we were still figuring out how to map DNA sequences, we certainly hadn’t attempted to create any artificial animals yet from the genetic side of things, but there were some rudimentary attempts at creating robotic dogs.  Generally, they sort of moved and made some barking noises.

Where are we today?
Extinction rates are still going up (we’re losing close to 1,000 species a year according to some scientists estimates), but there are still plenty of animals around at this point.  In 1997, we cloned Dolly the sheep and created the first artificial animal.  This made a lot of people nervous, and we haven’t done a whole lot of cloning since.  Instead, we’ve genetically modified animals to supply more food and resist disease.  On the robotics side of things, we have some pretty cool artificial animal toys, and AI has come a long way in making them seem realistic, giving rise to games like Nintendogs.

Did this prediction come true?  YES, BUT NOT TO BLADE RUNNER’S EXTENT.


4.) Voice Command Computers

Photo Enhancer

In his house, Deckard pulls up a photo on a pretty complex home computer system and proceeds to issue voice commands to control what it’s doing.  It fully recognizes his voice and responds to all sorts of commands even when Deckard uses phrasing like “wait a minute” interchangeably with “stop.”

Where were we in 1982?
In the 80s, computer sound still consisted mostly of blips and beeps.  It wasn’t until 1989 that computers received actual sound cards, so in 1982 computers couldn’t even talk to you, much less respond to you talking to them.

Where are we now?
Have you talked to your cell phone lately?  Over the past few years, voice recognition software has improved by leaps and bounds and it can now be seen in all sorts of applications.  Whether you’re asking your car for directions or trying to get SIRI to say something silly, voice recognition is a major part of modern computing.  While we may not use it quite how Deckard was using it due to preferences for touch screens and mice, it’s definitely possible.

Did this prediction come true?  YES.


 5.) Photo Enhancement

Photo Enhancement

Deckard’s futuristic detective techniques allow him to zoom in on a physical photograph and enhance it to such a degree that he can clearly see a woman in a small corner of a mirror.

Where were we in 1982?
In the eighties, digital photography wasn’t around yet, so the clarity of pictures depended entirely on the quality of film and the skill of the photographer.  Even doing something as simple as making a picture brighter was a challenging process.  If you couldn’t see something in a picture with a magnifying glass, there was no way it would ever be seen.

Where are we now?
With digital photography now reigning supreme, we can do all kinds of things to our photos in the computer.  Photo editing software allows us to combine images, change them, and even “repair” them, but there’s still one major problem: the more we zoom in, the blurrier the image gets.  What Deckard does is technically possible now, assuming the woman is in fact in the original picture (just incredibly small) and the picture is of extremely high quality, but truly “enhancing” a picture to see something that originally wasn’t there may be forever out of our reach.

Did this prediction come true? KIND OF.


6.) The US has become primarily Japanese

Melting Pot

A Japanese influence is seen all over the streets of LA in Blade Runner.  From a multitude of people speaking the language to the signs and billboards, it’s clear that in this vision of the future, Japan reigns supreme.

Where were we in 1982?
In the late 70s and early 80s, Japan’s economy was booming and their influence was beginning to be seen worldwide.  Tokyo became a major financial center, and the computer revolution was growing into Japan’s major source of exports.  Americans were worried that Japan’s massive growth would cause them to replace the United States as the world’s top superpower.

Where are we today?
Japan never supplanted the US, but now China is on the rise with a similarly booming economy and rapid growth.  Just like fears in the 80s with Japan, Americans now fear that China will overtake the US as the top superpower.

Did this prediction come true?  NO.


7.) Implanted Memories

Rachael

Implanted memories are a central concept to Blade Runner.  In many ways, our memories make us what we are, and if we can’t trust them, what can we trust and how can we define ourselves?  Rachael doesn’t even realize she isn’t human, and her memories of growing up are not her own.

Where were we in 1982?
Squarely in the realms of science fiction and philosophy.  Psychologists and scientists studied memory, but there was no way of implanting a memory psychologically or scientifically.

Where are we today?
In the 90s, studies were done that proved that memories could be “implanted” by having people tell narratives that contained a false event, utilizing carefully worded questions, and repetition.  The studies showed that over 50% of people could be made to “remember” something they had never done, like taking a hot air balloon ride, or being lost in a mall as a child.  We’re going to mark this one up as not coming true though since we can’t do it with science and it takes quite the process to implant even a simple memory.

Did this prediction come true?  NO.


8.) Massive Electronic Billboards

Giant Billboard

Massive advertisements adorn the sides of buildings in Blade Runner’s LA, and blimps fly through the air with advertisements speaking to people down below.  Many of these advertisements are enormous and all of them are digital, featuring brightly lit moving images.

Where were we in 1982?
Billboards were common place and many of them were quite large, but we didn’t have the technology to make digital billboards cost effective and thus they didn’t move unless they were animatronic.  As for blimps, there were advertisements on blimps as early as 1912, but in 1982 they didn’t have screens up there.

Where are we today?
In November of 2014, Google became the first company to rent what is currently the world’s largest digital billboard.  Mounted on the side of the Marriot Marquis hotel in New York, this digital monstrosity is approximately the size of a football field.  We now have billboards that speak to you or play music, and recently, we even have a billboard that emits a smell to help draw potential customers into a steak house.  Blimps have joined the digital age as well, and moving advertisements can be seen in our skies, though at least that one still isn’t cost effective enough to be as common as those seen in Blade Runner.

Did this prediction come true?  YES.


9.) Video Phones

Phone

Deckard calls Rachael from a bar, and even this simple phone call gets a full video display.  Interestingly, he places the call from a payphone.

Where were we in 1982?
The first cell phone call ever was placed in 1973, so technically, cell phones existed in 1982.  Mobile phones had existed before this utilizing radio, but for the most part, everything was still wire bound in 1982 and cell phones certainly weren’t in the hands of most consumers.  Handheld video cameras were first introduced in the early 1980s, but without any methods for sending video over phone networks, phones and cameras were mutually exclusive.

Where are we today?
Everyone and their dog has a cell phone.  Everyone has the internet.  Payphones pretty much don’t exist anymore, and even our mobile devices have decently high quality video cameras.  This one came true and far exceeded what the makers of Blade Runner could have imagined at the time.  Facetime is built in to iPhones, and Skype is free to anyone who has an internet connection.

Did this prediction come true?  YES.


10.) Replicants

Roy End

So what about the most central concept of Blade Runner?  Where are the replicants?  These genetically engineered and artificially created humans searching for their own humanity form the absolute core of the movie and left audiences questioning their own humanity.  

Where were we in 1982?
Cell cloning was being performed in labs on a rudimentary level and (as stated above) we were working on ways of mapping DNA, but anything resembling a fully artificial human was still an impossibility.  The robotics field was also in its infancy with nothing even approaching the level of complexity necessary to create a believable human.

Where are we today?
Cloning is possible.  Genetic modification is possible before birth.  We can’t create a full grown human or implant false memories, but we’re certainly closer than we were in 1982.  We also have robots doing some pretty cool things now, and AI has made leaps and bounds towards presenting believable thought and responses.  So while replicants remain in the realm of science fiction for the time being, we are remarkably close to making this one a reality.  It’s just a matter of time before all the elements necessary come together.  By 2019, we won’t be on our 6th generation like they were in Blade Runner, but we’ll probably be well on our way.

Did this prediction come true? Almost.


Ford Hanging off Building

Report Card:
Blade Runner

5 of 10 Predictions have been fully realized
2 of 10 Predictions are on the cusp of being realized
1 of 10 Predictions have been partially realized
2 of 10 Predictions failed to come true

Result:

Prolific.
An incredible amount of Blade Runner’s predictions have come true, and some of its predictions are well on their way to happening.  Few other sci-fi movies can claim to have predicted the future so accurately.  While I’ll admit I left flying cars and space colonies off this list, it can’t be denied that Blade Runner’s vision of 2019 hits a little creepily close to home.


If you missed last week’s article on Back to the Future Part II, be sure to check it out here!  Next week we’ll look at 2001: A Space Odyssey to determine which predictions have come true in that film and which ones are still science fiction.