The long-anticipated Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the Ridley Scott 1982 dystopian classic, currently showing at the cinemas grapples with the idea of artificial consciousness. Throughout the film one continuously questions what is real and what is not.
In the movie, the protagonist, officer K (Ryan Gosling), has the same job Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) had in the original. It is made clear from the beginning of the film that officer K, is a replicant, a more compliant machine designed to hunt and kill his own kind. Despite his artificiality being clearly amplified, as the movie plays out officer K starts to question whether he is perhaps human. As K develops agency through taking liberties on his free will, a broader philosophical question of what is “real” is highlighted and at a point in the movie one even begins to question your own reality. The film’s robotic nature is contrasted with the desire to be human, positioned as the embodiment of consciousness, agency, and memory.
In “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics” Katherine Hayles references Paul Connerton’s writing on memory. According to Connerton embodiment is linked to memory. Bodily practices are powerful because of habitual actions and movements, that happen underneath conscious awareness. Throughout Blade Runner 2049, K’s implanted memory of a childhood event becomes the mediator between the real and fake, emphasizing the importance of memory in defining and differentiating us as human beings.
Blade Runner might be an exaggerated version of our future, but the film definitely raises important questions to think about. If our world becomes more saturated with artificial realities, how will this affect our memory and as a result our humanity? Will we be less human if we have less authentic tangible interpersonal experiences?
It is ironic that the film highlights the desire to be human in a time when popular culture is even more relentless in its pursuit of a virtual world than ever before.
Katherine Hayles, “The Materiality of Informatics” in How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 192-221.