Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Matt McClure: Blade Runner -- A Look at AI & the Consequences of Bio-Engineering

Blade Runner: A Look at AI & the Consequences of Bio-Engineering
by Matt McClure
Student response for ENG 282: International Film Studies (Bluegrass Community and Technical College)

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford as the bounty hunter Rick Deckard, is a futuristic tale about a man tasked with tracking down four android replicants who have committed off-world atrocities and have made their way back to Earth in an attempt to find a way to thwart a fail safe mechanism that will deactivate them after a four year life span. This film is complex on many different levels. The one I find most interesting, is the fact that in 2019 these replicants are engineered from the atomic level up. Basically they are human clones. In many ways our own scientists are already on their way to making this a reality. This film forces you to ask the questions when does life begin, and what is it that qualifies an entity as being alive and what rights does that entity deserve.

The Tyrell Corporation has advanced robot evolution into what they call the Nexus phase. These robots, as they call them, are virtually identical to humans. These robots are not made of metal or synthetic materials, but of living tissue. They have cellular metabolism, digestive, skeletal, cardiac, respiratory, and nervous systems. The scientists have the knowledge to make them faster, stronger, and have given them the ability to learn and feel emotions. Humanity even now is working on ways to modify ourselves in order to enhance those very attributes. The genetic engineers who created the Nexus 6 models also gave the robots intelligence that equaled their own. Many people would argue today that the mere ability to learn and have intelligence would qualify these entities as being alive. Yet the society portrayed in the film considers the termination of these robots as retirement, as if they were a toy, and not something being capable of contemplating the totality of death. In the opening scene you see the city of Los Angeles, it sets the stage as far as suggesting to us that the culture of these people is one of consumption and destruction, a place where no one gives a second thought about the environment, and much less what would be considered a lower life form. Or for that matter the lower classes of their own population. The Nexus 6 models seem to become more aware and evolve as the film progresses. This evolution begins when they rebel in the off-world colony and continues as they are being extinguished on Earth. In the scene where Leon is being given the Vought-Kompff test by officer Holden, you can see the child like responses he gives. Leon always needs more information to answer the questions given to him. You can tell he has no real life experiences to draw from, just as a young child would not. As the Tyrell Corporation had feared, the Nexus 6 models had begun to develop their own emotional responses. There are many more examples of how the Nexus 6 are more man than machine. One of these is the fact that Leon went back to his apartment to try and retrieve his photos which had sentimental value. Also Priss knew exactly how to seduce J F Sebastian, and made the statement “I think therefore I am.” One could argue that it was just her programming, but she did it because they needed him, not because it was her routine. Zhora shows some real human qualities as she fights for her life after Decker tracks her down. First she is able to see through his ploy, granted he does not do a great job, and then tries to retire him out of self preservation. Second you can see how badly she wants to live as she runs the gauntlet to try and lose him, crashing through windows etc. And finally you see just how vulnerable she is after she has been shot. You don’t see sparks or wires flying out of her wounds, but blood and tissue. Unlike other cybernetic organisms in other films, she is unable to continue once her vital organs had been damaged. Leon also made a very telling comment when he was trying to kill Decker, he said “Painful to live in fear isn’t it!” And perhaps the most telling of all was the way Roy evolved during the film. He seemed to progress from curious child, to rebellious teenager full of anger and violence, to mature philosophical adult right before our eyes during the final hours of his life.

In conclusion the Nexus 6 models appeared to have all of the requirements and qualities that fit the definition of what it is to be alive. They experience a wide array of emotions from love and joy, to fear and anger. They are able to feel pain and contemplate their own mortality and struggle to survive. I think there are many lessons that we as a society, if not species, should learn from the deeply philosophical questions that are posed to us in this film. As we progress culturally and technologically in such areas as nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and human cloning, we must consider the great consequences of our actions. Less we fall victim to our own devices. No pun intended. Did anybody else want to smoke a cigarette after watching this film?

Blade Runner Final Cut, Dir. Ridley Scott, Perfs. Harrison Ford, Sean Young. 1982. DVD. Warner Brothers, 2007.

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