If the world is made of narratives, the best way to forecast our future is to understand which stories are influencing our thinking and technological imagination. By looking at outstanding top box-office sci-fi movies, we introduce the second of six interactive maps which present a comparative analysis that showcase the connection between fictional technologies and current scientific research.
In this visualization, we bring the second movie of the Blade Runner franchise after the 1982 film became an Academy awarded cult, acclaimed for its worldbuilding, soundtrack and inspiration for a new generation of science fiction writers. Since the 80s, the sci-fi subgenre cyberpunk has been exploring robotics and bioengineering from a philosophical perspective. With Blade Runner 2049, these discussions get an update that adapts more recent technologies to the ambience and neo-noir style that Blade Runner inaugurated 40 years ago. Such technologies are here mapped for a comparison between fictional technologies and the current state of scientific development.
For 200 years, science fiction has been reflecting upon the impact of current and future technologies in society. However, if in the beginning of the genre writers were also scientists and fiction was a field for creativity to be unleashed before these ideas became prototypes in the laboratory, the genre had a turning point in the 1960s as societies were becoming more and more tech-oriented.
Blade Runner has therefore became an inspirational hub that poses the possible and plausible ways humans will be interacting with sentient machines and bioengineered humans. In this future, technology is the interface that stimulates critical thought on what ultimately makes us humans and what we have been doing to ourselves and our world during the past years.
To kickoff our expedition, Envisioning's research team and a selection of curated specialists in sci-fi and futurism carefully dissected the movie and found 50 technologies, accessing each of them using NASA's Technology Readiness Level (TRL). By matching sci-fi with patents, academic sources and scientific magazines we were able to understand the intersection between the imaginative with scientific fact: from 1 (the lowest level of technology maturation) to 9 (technology is already being fixed and incorporated into new systems). Our interactive visualization allows you to navigate between technologies, understanding the current state and its parallel with the movie counterpart. Their position on their map reflects their level of readiness.
Similarly to the previous movie, Blade Runner 2049 poses the question on what does it mean to be human in a future when people can also be designed, not only born. Different from the previous perception that replicants were realistic, sentient robots, the 2017 film enforces them as bioengineered humans who had their physical, psychological and social characteristics enhanced by gene manipulation, so they can perform labor that is not suitable or desired by humans. Such designation, however, creates a new wave of prejudice and exclusion.
Despite bioengineering techniques have been applied to plants and animals for decades now, recent scientific discoveries brought back to the surface the ethical side in face of new technological possibilities: with cloned pets becoming a trend, what comes next? Even though we may find the way to clone and design better, stronger and more appealing humans, should we go for it? If we choose so, then Blade Runner 2049 brings a visualization by the means of fiction on how such enterprise could provoke social and existential impacts that go beyond technological needs.
In the movie, replicants are treated by naturally born humans as artificial beings designed to serve. After the riot provoked by the past generation of replicants, the following ones were engineered to be sociopaths, so they are expected to accept their fate as slaves. However, it is when the social sphere surpasses the biological reprogramming that these synthetic humans realize they can be more than wetware machines: they might be more human than humans.
Blade Runner 2049 uses science fiction as a means to create futuristic scenarios and address issues that are already conceivable now, as technology is developed. With that, the film stimulates debate and may implicate in more conscious and anticipated decisions to be taken. Rather than focusing on technical details, the movie discusses how society would react to these changes driven by technology and how ancient existential and metaphysical questions are still latent in a world shared by humans who were born, advanced artificial intelligence and humans designed to be as efficient as machines, but not quite mechanical as some would think. It is by colliding philosophical and romantic ideals of what is it to be human with technological development that Blade Runner provokes thought on how ethically will we follow this path.
Envisioning is a virtual research institute. We provide technological foresight to policy and decision makers worldwide. Our global team of academics, hackers and designers study technology to understand accelerating change. We share our work with our own tools, methodology and design. › envisioning.io