In Dick’s first chapter, Deckard and wife Iran wake and immediately reach for their hand-held devices to search for the settings that will set the tone for their day. Before the iPhone, Dick imagined the Penfield as the mood organ of choice in his futuristic world (his 1968 book was set in 1992).
For the movie, Scott and his creative team devised voice-command digital software that allows Deckard to scan and analyse a photograph, to help identify a replicant. In classic film noir style, Scott has Deckard stand on rainy streets, read the print version of the newspaper and use pay phones.
But who among us can’t one day envisage flying cars similar to the ones that feature in both book and film? Uber this year announced plans to have flying taxis in Melbourne’s skies by 2023, although the vision at this stage has them as aircraft and not flying cars.
It wasn’t just technology that put Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream well above standard sci-fi fare. Both focus heavily on questions we grapple with today: what are the ethics and hazards of using artificial intelligence? Are people the only beings capable of empathy? Does a rise in technology mean a decline in social connections?
Social aspiration is a recurring theme in Dick’s novels, and in Do Androids Dream status is achieved through ownership of real animals, instead of artificial ones (the book attributes the wipeout of various species to nuclear war). Deckard’s primary motivation to hunt replicants is for the bounty that will afford him a living, breathing pet rather than the electric sheep he keeps on his apartment roof. His focus may sound trivial in a decaying world, but compare it to the real-life social aspirations some of us measure ourselves on: chasing likes on Facebook, photographing meals and outfits, happy snaps on Instagram.
In Blade Runner, Scott accurately predicted the erosion of social connections despite technology advances. All of his main characters lead isolated, lonely lives (in the movie Deckard is divorced) within a metropolis, and crave lasting connections with others. Yet most can’t relate effectively to others in the flesh. Contrast this with modern-day interpersonal skills many people have – or lack – now to when Scott made the film a generation ago.
In the one successful relationship in Blade Runner, between Deckard and Rachael, the spectre of her limited lifespan as a replicant hovers over their future together. Director and author set their stories well into the future, but although that the future has caught up, their themes are more relevant than ever.
So what about Scott’s other key question, the age-old doozy: how long have each of us got? Who knows. What’s scary though, is the next time I watch Blade Runner the film will be set in the past, not the future.