The Future of the Past (Blade Runner Edition)
Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on May 12, 2008
The other evening, having nothing better to do, I headed over to one of my favorite places, the American Film Institutes’s Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md., for a screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian fantasy has held up well, but I was struck again by how terrible we are at predicting the future of technology.
The movie is set in Los Angeles in 2019, which wasn’t all that far in the future in 1982 and is now close enough for us to know much of what is wrong with its vision. The big issue, of course, is one central to the plot: By 2019, we would be capable of producing robots that cannot be distinguished from human beings. While there has been great progress in robotics, we still can’t get them to walk properly and most robt designers have long since decided that robots that roll are a lot more useful than those that try to get about on two legs. Also, no computer has come anywhere close to passing a Turning test by convincing a anyone that it could carry on a human conversation.
But a rebellion of humanoid robots is such a stock item of science fiction that I'll forgive that one. But what about those flying cars? The way things are going, we'll be lucky if we can still roll down the road in 2019. And the computers? In 1982, they seem to have believed that 37 years later, we'd still be using green-screen text CRT monitors. And Deckard might have had an easier time hunting down the replicants if he'd had a cell phone.
The cultural vision wasn't any better. I guess the fact that Los Angeles in 2019 seems to be an overwhelmingly Japanese speaking city, at least judging by the signage, reflects the early-80s zeitgeist believe that the Japanese were taking over the world. The polyglot LA of today is, mercifully, a lot more interesting.
Scott and his writers and art directors seem to have believed that we were heading for climate change, but they didn't get that quite right either. Even in an el Nino year, it doesn't rain that much in LA.