Science fiction doesn’t do a great job of predicting the future. When it comes to telecommunications, Bill Bennett says it does worse
At the time of writing, Netflix is streaming Blade Runner, a classic science fiction movie from 1982.
Blade Runner is interesting because the action is set in 2019. In other words, it is a view from almost 40 years ago of how we live today.
What did it get right and what did it get wrong? Some things are way off target. Early on, the hero, Rick Deckard, meets a policeman driving a flying car. We’re not even remotely near driving flying cars in 2019.
That’s a huge miss.
Also early on, an advertisement floats overhead. Again, flying adverts are not an everyday feature of our lives. The nearest we get are banners floating behind light aircraft.
However, the advertising hoardings are giant screens. That is on the money. Large advertising screens are now a familiar sight in cities, although, thankfully, unlike in the film, they don’t project sound with their images.
Thanks to climate change, Los Angeles, the film’s setting, suffers constant rain. The writers were correct in predicting climate change, but we have heatwaves and storms, not constant downpours.
One flying advertisement encourages people to emigrate ‘off-world’. Travelling to the stars seems a tempting offer looking at the movie’s depiction of 2019 life.
But really? We still shoot rockets into the sky, but no-one has been back to the moon since 1972, let alone travelled the solar system or deeper into space.
And we know Blade Runner’s people travel beyond the solar system because later in the film one of the characters talks about seeing “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion”.
Then we get to the main theme of the movie: bio-engineered replicants. These aren’t robots in the usual sense, but artificial humans. We are nowhere near this kind of technology in 2019.
As an aside, the film is based on a 1968 book called Do androids dream of electric sheep? Androids play a large part in life today, but they’re not human-like, they are mobile phones.
This brings us to telecommunications. Where are the mobile phones that dominate 2019 life? Almost everybody in the real world has one.
It’s not as if mobile phones weren’t around in 1982. The first, albeit heavy and unwieldy models, were introduced in 1949. Motorola had practical commercial handsets in 1973.
And where is broadband or any other kind of digital service? In 1982, some homes had tele-text machines. And email started in the 1970s. I had a work email account in 1982. Sure, it was dial-up and extremely slow, but no-one in the film has anything remotely like internet access.
Blade Runner is entertaining and thought provoking, but as a foretaste of 2019 it doesn’t come close.
The Download editor Bill Bennett was writing about technology since before Blade Runner hit the screens.