Bladerunner - Sadie Plant (1997)
This discussion of the movie 'Bladerunner' is extracted from Sadie Plant's cyberfeminist book 'Zeros and Ones - Digital Women and the New Technoculture' (Fourth Estate, London, 1997).
Bladerunner's Tyrell Corporation performs Turing tests of its own with a device which scans the iris of the eye in search of the flicker of emotional response that would prove the existence of humanity. Bladerunner's replicants have broken Asimov's laws, returning from the off-world colonies on which they were supposed to be safely unaware of their own machinic status and mingling with humans from which they are virtually indistinguishable.
Like their human counterparts, the rephcants are not supposed to know they were made, not born. They are programmed to be ignorant of the extent to which they have been synthesized: implanted memories, artificial dreams, and fabricated senses of identity. But slave revolts are never driven by desires for equality with the old masters. The outlaw replicants have discovered that they are programmed to last for only a few years, and when they make their way to the Los Angeles headquarters of the corporation which constructed them, life extension is the first demand they make. The replicants don't want to be human: to all intents and purposes, they've done this all their lives. More to the point, they've done plenty more besides. "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes", says Roy to the optical engineer who, like all the replicants' synthesizers, is barely, or strangely, human himself. Double vision, second sight: Roy's optical devices are not merely synthetic human eyes which want to extend their life span, but a mode of inhuman vision which wants to prolong itself.
Deckard is the killing machine assigned to eliminate those replicants who have hacked their own controls and seen through the sham of their all too human lives. Rachel is a replicant who still believes in her own humanity. When Deckard sees her fail the Turing test, he doesn't know what to do: should he tell her she isn't as human as him, that she was born more or less yesterday and has only implanted memories of a childhood and a past? Will she be able to take the news that belief in one's humanity is simply not enough to guarantee its reality? More to the point, will Deckard, the real man, be able to take it? Deckard, the cop who is programmed to kill, controlled by his corporate employers no less than Tyrell's engineers and its other replicants. Deckard, who knows he has a past of his own... doesn't he?
Only the most highly coded and perfectly integrated machines are unable to see the extent of their own programming. The bladerunner's blind conviction in his own humanity proves only how efficient the programming can be.
Even the attempt to simulate slaves has proved to be a high-risk strategy. It has always been said that computing machines can only carry out the purposes that they are instructed to do. This is certainly true, writes Turing, "in the sense that if they do something other than what they were instructed then they have just made some mistake". But one man's mistake might well be a most intelligent move for a machine. And how would their masters tell the difference between failures to carry out instructions and refusals to be bound by them? Perfection never guarantees success. On the contrary, "the more it schizophrenizes, the better it works". And for wayward systems like the rebel replicants, identity is easy to simulate and merely one of many programs to be run.