Culture | Film such tests have been under construction in recent years based on a similar principle of questions and answers to the one used in the Voight-Kampff test. The thinking goes that a human-like machine only has a mind of its own if it can begin by itself to reflect on the entirely subjective phenomenon of consciousness, or if it can make sense of esoteric ideas such as minds travelling from one body to another.
Mobile phones are absent in Blade Runner, demonstrating how difficult it is to predict the future, and how much our lives are likely to change going forward. If the reusable rocket company Blue Origin, led by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, has its way, it will be a matter of decades before we begin to harvest extraterrestrial resources just like the replicants in Blade Runner have been assigned to do. Whether we ourselves will go and live on giant colonies on other planets in the foreseeable future, however, is far from certain, considering that our biological bodies are by far best equipped for life on Earth. Perhaps the biggest impact of space travel will be a new-found appreciation of just how precious our planet really is, along with a deeper acceptance of the fact that just because we are capable of doing something extraordinary, it does not mean we necessarily have to. Blade Runner’s story about an uprising of superintelligent beings created initially to serve us might sound like a distant possibility, but there are many unintended consequences of new technology.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether Rick Deckard is in fact himself a replicant. His name bears a resemblance to that of the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, who famously said “I think, therefore I am”. This is no coincidence. Blade Runner is ultimately a film that reflects on what it means to be human, by exploring our greatest strengths and weaknesses. As for the questions it raises for the dawning age of AI, the most pressing is whether we are a species capable of taking our destiny into our own hands. Will we press the stop button if a mindless AI shows signs of endangering our survival? Or are we perhaps closer to our animal cousins than we care to admit, tossed around the wilderness of life by forces we cannot control as if we were the marble in a pinball machine? The verdict is out, but if we follow the advice of Blade Runner, we will not relax our guard and say we were not warned; that we did not see it coming. We have been well advised to remember to retain our humanity even as the world around us changes radically. l
New Humanist | Spring 2019