TEARS…IN…RAIN. BLADE RUNNER MEMORY IMPLANTS AND EMOTION MACHINE BECOMING REALITY AND A VITAL QUESTION FOR OUR TIMES
Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner, is the best sci-fi movie of all time. Forty years ahead of its time, it is also one of the most prophetic and literate of all movies when it comes exploring the moral, ethical and spiritual implications of genetic engineering and Transhumanism or the Skingularity, when we mesh our flesh with machines.
The movie did not resonate when it was released in 1982, but it gained cult status among audiences world wide in the following decades. With the accelerating emergence of Transhuman technology and the feasibility of some of its core concepts, such as implanting memories and manufacturing humans becoming more and more real, the story is gaining resonance today.
A sequel of the movie goes into production in July 2016. It is bound to inspire a re-evaluation of our relationship with the machines that are taking over our lives. At least one hopes so.
The film, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (1968), casts Harrison Ford as a replicant hunter. The replicants are genetically engineered humans manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation and are indistinguishable from ‘real’ humans, but have limited, pre-determined life spans of four years, because after that they would begin to develop primitive emotions. Banned on earth, they are used in extraterrestrial or off-world colonies to do slave labor.
Tearing a page out of the “Fallen Angels” playbook, a few of the replicants crossed the forbidden boundary and came to earth in search of their creator and prolonged life. They are hunted and “retired” (terminated) by human “Blade Runners’. Played by Ford, the Blade Runner of the story hunts down four sub human replicants who fell to earth.
Rutger Hauer plays Roy Batty, the leader of the fallen replicants. His inception date in the film was January 8, 2016. His “girlfriend”, Pris, played by Darrell Hannah was born on February 14, 2016. Hauer delivered one of the all time great cinematic moments with his character’s legendary “tears in rain” soliloquy to Harrison Ford’s character at the end of the movie. Also called “That” speech and “The C-Beams Speech” it captures the essence of the questions at the core of Transhumanism. We will discuss it momentarily. First, a brief set up.
The Earth of the film is the dehumanized Los Angeles of 2019. Corporations rule the world. Police are everywhere. Everything is synthetic and artificial in this reality, including humans. It is a dystopia in perpetual night that we are a blink away from manifesting ourselves.
The replicants believe themselves to be human. They have memories to prove it. In reality, they have implanted memories of real people. The “false memories” were implanted in the replicants to provide an “emotional cushion”. They have childlike moments in the film where they begin to experience “human” emotions. They are, after all, only four years old. Throughout the film, the replicants act human in that they care for one another and work together to continue their existence. It is the humans in the film who act “less than human”. This is one of Ridley Scott’s messages.
The concept of memory implants was cutting edge sci fi when Blade Runner was released in 1982.
As I discussed in “The Skingularity Is Near”, memory implants are now in the works.
Scientists at the University of California Berkeley reveal they have found a new way to interact with the brain and to allow human brains to interact with machines. Their idea is to sprinkle electronic sensors the size of dust particles into the cortex of the brain and to interrogate them remotely using ultrasound. They are called smart dust or neural dust. IF their ambitious goal of remotely controlled brains works out, it may then be possible for them to take that neural-netted system that has your brain imprint on it and transfer it to a robotic clone or double…or implant some one else’s memories within you.
In 2013 President Obama announced the U.S. government’s $100 million brain-mapping research project called BRAIN and its aims to map the brain. This was matched by a $1.3 billion commitment from the European Union. Creepy military mind control applications are already being discussed. Leaked documents reveal that the BRAINiacs, through Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) research, are on the verge of being able to change people’s moral beliefs or stop political dissent through remote control of people’s brains. IF they are able to do this, and they can change our life story, the concept of Free Will will become a thing of the past. It will be the ultimate weapon. We may fully enter a Slave Age with Government or corporations as the master.
This is the world of Blade Runner.
DO MACHINES HAVE EMOTIONS? WILL TRANSHUMANS?
One of the Blade Runner’s major memes is that machines do not have emotions. This is how we tell the difference between real and fake people.
Critics of Transhumanism believe that, as we mesh our organic flesh with synthetic flesh and technology in order to gain super human capacities, we will pay for them with our emotions. Free will goes out the window as soon as we subject ourselves to the mega corporations and their desire to implant their technological things into our skin and bodies.
In order to detect replicants Harrison Ford’s Deckard uses a fictional machine called the Voight-Kampff machine (VK). Similar to a lie detector test, the machine measures involuntary biological functions like respiration, heart rate, blush response and pupil dilation in response to questions dealing with empathy.
“The VK,” says the 1982 Blade Runner press kit, “is used by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements.”
Researchers at Britain’s Lancaster University are actively working on making the VK machine a reality.
The Lancaster “emotion detector” is an ear-piece that connects to a smart phone and measures skin and heart responses in response to emotional stimuli. Like the Blade Runner machine it also measures eye movement and pupil dilation.
While the machine is only in design or concept phase at this point, the team at Lancaster, along with the design team at the Center for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London (UCL) maintains the real aim of the device is to spark a conversation about the ethical implications of a future in which computers are use to monitor or manipulate emotions.
C BEAMS AND TEARS IN RAIN
At the end of the movie, Deckard and Roy are fighting on top of one of the giant corporate towers. Here, one of the most memorable scenes in movie history takes place. It is pouring rain. Roy’s body is giving out. His time is nearly up. So is Deckard’s (who secretly may also be a replicant).
To escape the more powerful Roy, Deckard leaps from one tower to another, but doesn’t quite make it. Deckard hangs on to a slippery steel girder with both hands, his fingers having previously been broken by Roy.
The super human Roy, clutching a white dove, easily leaps the gap between two buildings. He stands, looking down at the struggling Deckard.
As Deckard’s grip weakens, Roy says to him, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
That is quite a statement coming from a robot.
One of Deckard’s suddenly hands slips. With piercing eyes, Roy looks into Deckard’s fear drenched face and sees… his soul(?).
As their eyes lock, Deckard’s other hand slips.
In a flash, Roy grabs Deckard’s arm, pulls him to safety with one arm and chucks him to the ground like a rag doll. Roy’s hand had a nail driven through it in an earlier fight with Deckard, a reference to the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. Deckard feebly tries to crawl away in awe and fear of his robot savior.
Roy sits cross-legged, cuddling the dove to his chest. He gazes deeply into Deckard’s eyes, rain pouring down his face. We understand that in sparing Deckard’s life Roy is acknowledging the value of life. The machine man is choosing life for his former enemy, which indicates that he has free will and defeated the programming of his creator to kill.
Suddenly, Roy has switched from the antagonist to the hero of the film, from machine to more human than Deckard. He gives “That” speech. The C Beams speech. When he speaks it is with the full moral authority of the hero:
“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. Time to die.”
As Roy closes his eyes and dies, Deckard watches in silence, drenched in the cleansing rain.
The dove escapes Roy’s clutching hands and ascends in a flutter.
In Christian symbolism, the dove symbolizes the soul. One way of interpreting the release of the dove from Roy’s hands as he dies is that he developed a soul… and it lives on.
CAN ROBOTS HAVE SOULS?
This is one of the underlying questions of Blade Runner. Do robots have souls? Can they get one?
They do if the Transhumanist view of our soul is our benchmark. Transhumanists believe that our soul is the accumulation of our memories and experiences stored in our memory and run by your biological computer, your body. And these memories, your soul, can be transplanted or implanted, digitally uploaded, into a new body such as a clone or a holographic avatar. This is called digital reincarnation.
When Roy tells Deckard of his memories of being in space and seeing things that no humans have seen he is insuring that his experiences, his soul, will live on in Deckard.
Another question raised by Philip K. Dick and the film concerns the creation of the replicants by Tyrell. As mega corporations begin to resemble the all-powerful Tyrell Corporation and create robotic humans what separates these newly manufactured beings from human beings? What defines us as organic humans? What separates us from animals and machines?
In the original version of the movie Deckard’s voiceover ties up the meaning of the last scene and the film:
“I don’t know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody’s life, my life. All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.”
I can’t wait to see the new Blade Runner. By then, perhaps we will have more answers to these questions.