How close is ‘Blade Runner’s’ 2019 to our own?

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It’s November 2019. This means that we’ve finally reached the month in which the film “Blade Runner” takes place.

Which, of course, begs the question: How accurate is the movie’s imagined future compared to our present-day?

‘Blade Runner’ Background

We’ve all been waiting for this moment for a long time and are ready to delight everyone with plenty of “Blade Runner” references. For those unfamiliar with the movie, here’s some background.

Based off of the 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep” by Philip K. Dick, but given a random new name for bizarre reasons, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner” led audiences through a dystopian 2019 with flying cars, stunning space-age metropolitan skylines, and alarming depictions of our future coexistence with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

It’s cutting edge visual effects and sci-fi noir narrative were impressive at the time. Yet, the movie still holds up today (good luck choosing which version to watch though). In the 37 years since the film’s release, some notable signs of age and eye-rolling moments have admittedly risen.

What ‘Blade Runner’ Got Wrong

One of the first things to pop out at you when watching “Blade Runner” is the massive cityscape and the hover vehicles that traverse it. Obviously, we don’t have cars soaring through the air quite yet, though the tech is getting there. However, the most jarring distinctions between “Blade Runner” and reality are some you might not expect.

For instance, seeing Harrison Ford leaf through polaroid photographs in this sci-fi landscape forces a laughable juxtaposition with digital cameras. Similarly, the presence of neon Atari signs and instant fishbowl hairdryers that finish working in only seconds just feel off.

Nothing in the movie stands out from our own technology quite like the Androids do. Breakthrough methods like Natural Language Processing (NLP) are revolutionizing the potential of what modern AI can accomplish. However, we aren’t anywhere near a point where we can produce the sentience-bearing androids—whose AI is so sophisticated that they appear virtually indistinguishable from humans—which the film centers its plot around.

What “Blade Runner” Got Right

To be fair, when compared to the original source material written by Dick, the “Blade Runner” film is actually much closer to today’s reality.

It doesn’t really present anything that “Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep” doesn’t already have, but it omits a lot. However, those omissions seem like intentional departures to create a more plausible representation of how our own future would look.

For instance, the novel takes place during an undisclosed date in the future. It also takes place on an Earth ravaged by nuclear war. Interplanetary space travel is common, artificial mood alteration devices are a standard, and tech-powered, empathy-based religion psychically links humans together. Also, as the title suggests, there are electronic sheep, among other animals.

With the “Blade Runner” film, all of those more abstract predictions for the future aren’t present. At the same time, the film retained its depictions of IoT-style home assistants that manage the protagonists’ apartment complex, the prevalence of mainstream video calling, lie detection technology, and fast advancing robotics. It also traded out the post-apocalyptic nuclear atmosphere for an absurdly polluted LA skyline, which is a pretty accurate change. Additionally, corporations in the film demonstrate sinister levels of control over society that’s closer to today’s world than the 1980s.

It’s Time to Go Watch ‘Blade Runner’

All this is to say, while “Blade Runner” might have the odd flying car and hyper-intelligent robot, as far as speculative fiction goes, it got quite a bit right.

Considering the nearly 40-year gap between when it came out and now, that’s pretty impressive. In many ways, it puts the film alongside other famous speculative works, like George Orwell’s novel “1984” published in 1949.

If anything, this not only highlights much of the value that “Blade Runner” still provides audiences today, but sci-fi’s value overall. By looking forward and predicting the trends that form our future world, works like “Blade Runner” effectively teach us about the past, present, and future of ourselves.

Since there’s no more appropriate time, and since the film is definitely worth a watch, check it out this month. When you do—for your sake—avoid the theatrical release with Harrison Ford’s painfully boring narrating.