Sunday, October 22, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

In keeping with the previous two posts - I did get out to see Blade Runner 2049 last Saturday.  It was clearly a first rate science fiction film and I guess some viewers not used to the genre might also call it a thriller.  Visually I thought it was less stunning that the first due to the lack of street level scenes and the hectic activity on the street.  It has critical acclaim but because of the high cost is being described by some critics as a "box office bomb".  In this film replicants (bioengineered androids) have become Blade Runners.  In some reviews of the film they are referred to as bioengineered humans and that is not a trivial difference since the main plot theme is whether or not the androids can reproduce.  The focus is on K (Ryan Gosling) who is the main protagonist.   We seem him interacting with and dispatching another replicant in the initial scene.  That replicant asks for mercy on the basis that they "are the same kind" and that there is a higher calling based on the miracle that he has witnessed.  When K returns to the station (LAPD) he undergoes a rapid debriefing protocol, test questions with monitoring of various anthropometric and physiological parameters.  The meaning of the test questions is not clear but the implication is that it determines if he has stayed at his baseline or his status had been perturbed in some way.   The test is also being administered for a very different reason than the Voight-Kampff protocol since the test subject is a known replicant.

There are three generations of replicants in the film starting with K - a Nexus 9 series, to the Nexus 8 replicant he retires in the original scene, the the Nexus 7 series that dates back to Rachael in the original Blade Runner film.  Over the course of that time frame the replicant population has become less subservient and more interested in equality or autonomy.  There is a rebellious faction.  We learn later in the film based on a series of events that the common "miracle" that the replicant population refers to is the birth of a child by Rachael in the original film.  In that film in the final scene she was leaving with Deckard (Harrison Ford).  There were implications that Rachael was a specially modified replicant and in retrospect the question is whether she was modified to reproduce.   

The competing forces in the film were threefold.  First, the LAPD is invoked as the police force determined to suppress any replicant rebellion.  K is a detective for the LAPD and after discovering Rachael's remains buried at the site where he encounters the initial replicant and there is evidence that she gave birth to a child..  Second, Tyrell corporation has been replaced by the potentially more evil Wallace Corporation header by Niander Wallace.  Wallace is very explicit about the need for replicant reproduction since he does not believe that manufacturing capacity can ever meet the need for replicants in service of his corporation and its off world needs.  And finally there is the role of K as a free agent in all of this.  Does he do the bidding of his boss at LAPD or not?  His boss emphasizes the importance of killing any story that replicants have reproduced - she sees it as a game changer for civilization as they know it.  She assigns him to find and kill the child.  He is later assigned to kill Deckard for the same reason.

I will leave the plot specifics to the various reviews and descriptions already out there and concentrate on the main issues that have to do with consciousness in the film.  At one point K is asked about childhood memories and recalls being bullied by a group of boys who wanted a small hand carved horse that he was carrying.  We see him escaping the boys and burying the toy in a pile of ashes in the bottom of an old furnace.  Later he consults with an expert to determine if the memory is real or not.  She confirms that it is a real memory and that leads him to believe he may be the child of Deckard and Rachael.  I asked myself at that point if K's interest in the memory was even possible if he was a replicant.  By definition in Tononi Koch theory, this experience requires consciousness and even perfectly engineered system mimicking the human brain could not generate the human experience associated with the memory much less the integrated emotions associated with this scene.  When K finally finds Deckard he is in a state of emotional turmoil related to information that Deckard provides him about his origins.  In a shootout Deckard is captured by Wallace Corp and is in the process of being tortured to find out information about the location of his and Rachael's child.  He is both rescued by K and united with his child by K.  In both Blade Runner movies Deckard is rescued in the end by a replicant.

My summary may not match up well with other reviews about specifics.  I did not view the protocol being given to K as the Voight-Kampff protocol, since it did not seem like it was an updated version.  Keeping Tononi Koch theory in mind it would be totally unnecessary even if he was really a highly sophisticated bioengineered replicant.  It would only be necessary to place a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil close to his brain and observe the high density electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern.  If consciousness exists the theory predicts a pattern of widespread activation and deactivation.  It should also be possible to observe the characteristic sleep EEG pattern of transitioning from consciousness to unconscious dreamless sleep and back.  Of course these androids would need to be flawlessly engineered to protect circuitry from magnetic and electrical fields that occur with these measurements. 

In summary, I thought that Blade Runner 2049 was an excellent film just based on the plot and artistry.  I can always see the distinction between real science and science fiction.  If Tononi Koch theory is accurate, it is hard to imagine that a replicant would not be obvious to conscious humans.  I guess we will need to either wait until that day comes or until the theory has more widespread acceptance and proof.  The other parallel aspect of this film is bioengineered human reproduction.  It is difficult to see how that could ever be done, especially through human sexual contact with machines.  Sexual contact with bioengineered androids is a more frequent science fiction theme these days than in the past.  It is probably easier to see how that might happen from the human side.

There is currently not enough information about human sexual consciousness to imagine how it could be built or programmed into an android.     

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA               

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