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Movie Quote Monday – Blade Runner

I recently saw Blade Runner for the first time:

In the future (2019, haha) a company has “advanced Robot evolution” to the point of being virtually indistinguishable from humans. These robots have super strength, naturally, and “at least equal” intelligence to their creators. And so of course they are used as slaves off-planet to do probably crappy and definitely dangerous work that humans don’t want to do.

In a big surprise to everyone, six of these “Replicants” mutiny, kill 23 humans and jump a shuttle back to Earth. Replicants “were designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions.” It was estimated that after a few years they would start developing their own emotional responses, and so they were built with a four-year life span. These six Replicants have come back to Earth in search of a way to extend their lives.

It was pretty thought-provoking, and the first thing I considered was how many books and movies include robots or computers that have jumped the gap from being purely machine to having self-awareness. Some humans (at least in the fictional world) have a burning need to create sentient life by non-biological means, and I find that interesting. Why is this theme so pervasive in fiction? Why are we so fascinated with that idea?

Why, if this is a wide-spread fantasy and we can write stories in any way we want, does it almost always turn out to be humanity’s doom? Or at the least rather deadly.

Of course if a robot has self-awareness, but not compassion or empathy – you know, the kinds of things you develop when you have a childhood – then that would maybe not be a great thing.

Beyond that, it seems rather cruel to purposely create a being to have human emotions and then discount that being’s “humanity”, abusing it as though it were merely a machine.

At the end of the movie, the main Replicant antagonist laments his own death:

Roy:  I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those…moments will be lost…in time…like…tears…in rain.

That seems pretty human to me – not wanting to lose your thoughts and memories, not wanting to let go of your experiences. Those are the things that build upon one another and help make you who you are, but once we’re gone, our own personal involvement in the world melts into a collective memory. Our uniqueness is lost in the downpour of human history.

So my question is, is it wrong for a conscious being to do whatever it has to do to protect its own existence?

Exactly what constitutes “life” for these artificial humans?  And then to what extent is society responsible for protecting that life?

Who was really the monster: Frankenstein or the creature he brought into being?

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oddly enough, I was thinking about this scene this morning. There was a piece on NPR about a couple of experiments to determine how people respond to technology. One showed that if a PC works well, users are more likely to “help” the machine by running some tedious diagnostic tests. The other involved people playing a game with a robotic cat. Soon as the game ended, the test subjects were to reboot the robot to wipe its memory. The robots, though, were programmed to say things like, “Please don’t.” Every test subject hestitated before “killing” the robotic cat. The bumper music at the end of the story was that 80’s saxophone theme from “Blade Runner.”

    January 28, 2013
    • I would hesitate, but I’m prone to project emotions on inanimate objects. How much more so on a robot cat that first played with me and then asked me not to kill it? thebirdieflies was telling me on another post about tests where subjects threw darts at pictures of Hitler and a baby. They had a much harder time hitting the baby picture.

      It’s interesting how we view the world, isn’t it? It’s a picture, but we interpret our actions as hitting a BABY in the face with a dart. It’s a mechanical/electrical/computerized object, but we project our humanity onto it. I covered my dolls at night until I was into my too old to admit’s, because I couldn’t bear to think of them being cold. I felt silly doing it, but I couldn’t shake the idea that it was cruel to let them be cold.

      Interesting too that in these movies, the creator of the sentient robot/computer system is often depicted as also being a bad guy. It’s an evil corporation, a mad scientist, a power-hungry somebody who won’t listen to reason. I felt sorry for the Replicants, but thoroughly disliked the corporation guy. I didn’t mind him getting killed at all. The robots killed and continued to be dangerous, so termination was necessary, but I also felt like they were not given a fair shake from the very beginning.

      January 28, 2013
  2. Intriguing topic, thought provoking. I do not really have insights to share. I do not always admit that I am a “trekker.” But I am. On several episodes on Star Trek: The Next Generation this idea has been explored. One main character is Data, an android trying to become more and more human–so that recurring theme is always there. But there are several episodes that try to decide if he is sentient, if new life forms are, and how they then should be treated. it is an important concept that humanity needs to consider. If we stop caring about humanity and being humane, then what are we?

    January 28, 2013
    • I thought about Data but I haven’t seen enough of The Next Generation to remember how human-like he was. I thought that was his story-line, though. But I also thought he ended up in a relationship at one point? But whether alien life forms were really “life forms” or not – I remember that question from both Star Trek and The Next Generation – and other sources as well (The Andromeda Strain pops to mind).

      In terms of robots like Data, I think it’s something we can’t come close to ever. If a creature is a walking computer (basically) then all that “brain” has available to it is programmed in or added data as it interacts. It can say “hello, how are you” when you walk into the room, but it will never mean it, or care what you say in response. For Data, a desire to be more human seems to be pure fantasy (and back to my question of why we feel the need to have these robots want to be human). If he’s a computer without emotion, then where does a desire to be human come from? It’s want, envy, curiosity, etc – all human emotions. Seeing as how I’m unfamiliar with the show, maybe there’s more to it. But with a real robot, it would have no interest at all in being human. Or anything else, actually.

      January 28, 2013
  3. I’ve been reading a book about consciousness so this is a very timely post. I saw Blade Runner years ago. To me, there is something really creepy to me about robots and artificial intelligence, as if we could somehow create consciousness without feelings, connections, etc.

    January 28, 2013
    • One of the things they addressed in Blade Runner is giving these robots false memories. The corporation guy said fake memories helped the robots assimilate or feel better or whatever. I guess when the robots started having feelings, they would be confused and basically start feeling bad – probably resentful and angry. Well, I’d feel resentful and angry if I knew I was created just to do slave labor. A robot with emotions would feel just like any human would feel in that situation. But having these memories seemed to help it with anger management I guess, and not be as prone to kill people maybe, haha?

      I saw a show about a computer that was as close as you could get to being self-aware. But of course it’s simply computer software and hardware, so close isn’t really that close. It can learn and adapt, but really that’s no more than reprogramming itself as it gains new data. I personally find it all a bit creepy too, and don’t fully get why someone would want to accomplish that. I think the movies are right, and creating consciousness without feelings – connections to the world around it and empathy with fellow creatures – is a recipe for a robot apocalypse.

      January 28, 2013
  4. Steadilyskippingstones,

    Good post – fun to discuss philosophy …… Don’t read too much into my tone…I am a monster created by someone else – blame them!

    My two cents:

    So my question is, is it wrong for a conscious being to do whatever it has to do to protect its own existence?
    – Yes it is (not desirable) wrong. most of us innately recognize ourselves as part of a larger group or “whole” to a certain extent. Doing WHATEVER it takes to protect your existence is easier for sociopaths and beings without emotions – without attachment to others. All of us would do many things to survive – most of us would not resort to anything goes (at least not easily or without provocation).

    Exactly what constitutes “life” for these artificial humans?  And then to what extent is society responsible for protecting that life?
    – I recently read somewhere that Veterinarians have a (comparitively) high risk for suicide, it seems they often feel conflicted about putting fluffy to sleep when the pet owner decides not to cough up a few hundred dollars for treatment. We can also examine places like Africa where …..for the price of a cup of coffe per day we could be sustaining a life – we tend to savor the coffee instead. I don’t see society as all that responsible in the first place, whenever we do start creating artificial life it may be as disposable as many “natural” life forms presently are. I’ll discuss constitutes life below.

    Who was really the monster: Frankenstein or the creature he brought into being?
    – We are all the monster…….as long as things continue as they are (see above). Asked another way…..when humanity drives itself off a cliff who is responsible? God for falling asleep at the wheel or us for pressing down on the accelerator instead of the brakes?

    I came to an awareness a while back that I am, like everyone, an individual indivisible presentation of that which is whole. We all know about living as individuals, we are barely beginning to understand life as an indivisible…….as we do we will encounter the realization of man and what constitutes life will become clearer (along with a whole lotta other stuff).


    January 28, 2013
    • Yay, answers! I think it’s fun to discuss philosophy too 🙂

      1. I really meant to say “in the context of the movie, can we blame these creatures for acting that way”. These Replicants were starting to have emotions, particularly caring for one another (empathy, love, attachment to probably the only other beings in their “social circle”), but did not have the benefit of a childhood or any kind of emotional growth experience where they would have slowly learned to turn their focus from inward to outward – sharing, getting along, compromise, etc. So in that case, I think they were machines doing whatever they had to do to survive, with no regard (love, empathy, attachment) for anyone outside of their immediate group. I don’t think it’s necessarily right, but I think their behavior is understandable.

      Only a little bit at the end was Roy starting to understand the concept of regret or guilt or anything like that – he says to the corporate guy that he’s “done questionable things”. I did think along the lines of sociopaths, but I didn’t pursue that idea. Anyway, in real life I agree with you.

      2. Yes, very interesting. As a society, whether you’re talking about a planet’s worth of people who’d rather just drink their coffee, or on down to the neighbors who pretend they don’t know the kids next door are being abused, we most often don’t take much responsibility for each other. But I do think we are responsible. I’m the worst at not stepping up to help people, but I don’t think it’s okay for me to be that way.

      In the movie, what I was thinking is that it was irresponsible of society to allow the creation of robots that could feel and then allow them to be treated like slaves. But really, kinda like you said, what’s different about that from what we have in real life now (except they aren’t robots).

      3. I thought a lot about that question, and almost deleted it. But I agree with you that it’s pretty much everyone.

      4. If you’re referring to God here, then I think I understand. If not, then you’ve lost me. But I can be thick like that 🙂

      Thanks for talking to me! I love to know what other people are thinking. I’m always interested when people interpret things a little differently than I did, because it opens my eyes to new ways of thinking, new ideas. It’s especially interesting to see how someone reads something I said differently than I intended. You think people understand exactly what you’re saying, but really we come at things from different perspectives.

      January 28, 2013
      • Steadilyskippingstones,

        Thank you for being thought provoking and inspiring. Your blog content made me answer the questions more broadly…..I remember Blade Runner fondly, but I thought of it as a platform to launch questions from and not confine ourselves to the context of the film. You seem like more of a seeker than a movie buff.

        4. I hesitate to reference God……so many of us do it half ass – the state of the world and what we have just now been discussing says it all. Basically, I see “God” as omnipotent (but poorly referenced and extremely underutilized because of our distance/perceptions). Agreeing to the omnipotence can in one way allow too much passive faith where we have the latitude to suck as a species or we CAN take responsibility by seeing ourselves as indivisible from a wholesome power and omnipotence and just start demonstrating a better world. This isn’t a new age by coincidence……it is time to evolve. 🙂 I am going about it (weirdly) as best I can……steadily stumbling along.

        January 29, 2013
        • 🙂 Yes, you’ve got me pegged – I do look at this stuff and think “what is the bigger picture here?” or more, “what questions do we need to be asking ourselves?” But, I didn’t want you or anyone to think that in real life I support the idea of anything goes if you’re trying to survive.

          I am also hesitant to talk about religion – I’m a Christian – mostly because I don’t know what I’m talking about, haha. I am ill-equipped to represent or share anything in the Bible, or to even back up anything I believe. I will post about what I’m going through in my religious journey from time to time, and I think that’s important for me. But I get what you’re saying. I still have a lot of questions myself, and a lot of doubts about how I’m living within my beliefs. I’m not often the greatest example of God’s love. But, like you, I am going about it as best as I can. But you’ve read my about page, so you know all about that 🙂 Also, please feel free to call me Michelle. I don’t use it on here much, but that’s my name 🙂

          January 29, 2013
  5. Wonderful to meet you Michelle, feel free to contact me at for better hello.

    January 29, 2013
  6. First of all, for the first time? Blade Runner is one of the more seminal cinematic and storytelling influences of my adolescence. When the 10th anniversary re-release hit theaters, I went on a Tuesday night and had the theater all to myself. It was bliss.

    Regarding the topic at hand, I recently read where a British scientist was decrying the dogmatic nature of the scientific community today. He listed several assumptions that must be questioned for scientific inquiry to progress. One of those was the assumption that the brain is the center of human consciousness. Combine that with phenomena like cell memory, wherein a transplant patient receives some of the personality and characteristics of the donor, and you realize that simply creating a more complex artificial brain may not yield anything like self-awareness.

    I think it’s in our very nature to imagine what we would do if given the power to create new lifeforms, but not the wisdom to resist the temptation to do so. Among other things, I think it serves as a metaphor for our own insecurities about parenting and how our culture influences the development of our children.

    January 30, 2013
    • 🙂 first time. It was in the $5 bin at The Walmarts, so I just had to have it. LOL!

      Now this is interesting to get some feedback from a filmmaker. So what I was thinking as I read your comment is that I have never personally had any interest in creating a new life form. But then it occurred to me (as I was thinking about you being a filmmaker) that as artists, we are all kind of doing that. Maybe we don’t create breathing, self-aware kinds of creatures, but art is kind of a living thing.

      I guess I’m stretching here, but an artist pours something of himself into his creation. Then that creation moves through the audience, speaking to them, stirring emotions in them. Maybe it says exactly what the artist wants it to say. Maybe the audience hears something entirely different. But either way, great art is alive with emotion.

      When I write (especially poetry), I am kind of a Frankenstein myself – I want to take these inanimate words and breath life into them. I want to infuse them with my humanity, my emotions, my consciousness. I guess that’s where my thoughts were going on that. I say I never had any interest in creating an artificial life based on myself (which is what these scientists in the movies are doing), but I guess that’s not entirely true.

      Anyway – I never heard of cell memory or transplant patients taking on characteristics of the donors. That is pretty darn cool and amazing. I’m going to have to look that up, because I just assumed the brain was the center of human consciousness too.

      January 30, 2013

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