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entertainment
9 June 2017

Visions of the future

With Blade Runner 2049 being released in October this year, let's look back on the original movie's predictions of modern-day society.

It's been 35 years since the release of the first Blade Runner, which was based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner - the tale of a hunt for four dangerous 'replicant' humans - is a classic envisioning of a dystopian future, set only two years from now (2019) in Los Angeles. While the world may not quite look like the one depicted in the film, some of its projections are proving to be rather accurate.

The future is now

Vibrant echoes of Ridley Scott’s neon urban cityscape can be seen in Times Square or downtown Tokyo. Our world doesn’t yet contain never-ending rainy skies, although the plastic garbage heap the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean would fit well within the bleak future of the Blade Runner universe. And, in a few years’ time, when the effects of global climate change could be stirring up even more dire weather patterns, it’s possible that downtown Los Angeles will always have a storm system overhead. 

While there’s no Internet in Blade Runner, the voice-activated photo analysis machine Harrison Ford’s Deckard utilises contains elements of Adobe Photoshop. Out-of-control killer androids haven’t been built yet, but we’re on the way to having flying cars by 2019 and flying drones are currently on the loose throughout the world.

Flying cars

As well as flying, vertical take-off and landing, the police car used by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), in the film, is capable of ground travel. Flying cars are a staple of sci-fi, but still seem a little far off to the average driver. 

That's not to say there are no flying cars. The world's first electric flying car recently embarked on its successful maiden voyage in Germany, while developers in Tokyo have recently announced their own version of the flying car which they hope to be ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  

Advances in artificial intelligence

While the replicants in Ridley Scott's film seem to be synthetic humans rather than true robots, the film still explores the idea of artificial intelligence.

A key device in the movie is that the replicants do not have a normal emotional range, something that can be detected using a 'Voight-Kampff' test to measure empathic responses.

There seems an echo of the many tests used now to measure advances in AI. Already scientists have developed machines which can be awarded the Loebner Prize, being deemed human-like by a team of experts. This is based on a test devised by mathematician Alan Turing to determine whether machines can think and use natural language. While others are able to beat us at our own games

Then there's Erica, the latest robotic creation from Hiroshi Ishiguro. Although still relatively stiff by human standards, Erica answers questions like 'what are your hobbies?' (sports, theatre and anime, if you must know) and appears more natural than previous robotic attempts. 

Additionally, Erica's non-verbal actions, including blinks, emotive facial movements and head leaning, all seemed to enhance the android's Japanese-style of communication.

In only a few short years we've gone from clunky dial-up telephones to sleek, handheld devices with more power than the computers that sent a rocket to the moon. Technology is advancing at a rapid scale and its inevitable that we will not only catch up with cinemas visions of the future but far outstrip them as well.