Is the technology in Blade Runner 2049 already here?

10 : 10 : 2017 Technology : Culture : Artificial Intelligence
Still from Blade Runner 2049 Still from Blade Runner 2049

Mobile and family friendly, advanced robot companions are already entering the technology market.

Maks Fus Mickiewicz, senior journalist, LS:N Global

Blade Runner 2049 has received rave reviews. Fans and critics alike have praised the tenacity of director Denis Villeneuve’s world, and the considered narrative, which builds on the story of the original Blade Runner, makes it a stand-out feature in its own right. Now for the real test. How does the fiction measure up against The Future Laboratory’s trend forecast? Warning: Minor plot spoilers ahead.

First let’s talk about Joi, a holographic artificial intelligence (AI) system who both connects with smart home devices and is connected to protagonist Officer K romantically.

As we’ve explored on LS:N Global, this kind of technology is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed – to paraphrase William Gibson. In Japan, technology firm Gatebox is developing a holographic home assistant, priced at £1,970 ($2,600, €2,200). The device features a manga-inspired character called Azuma Hikari who texts users while they are at work and sits down to eat with them at dinner.

There is an emerging market for humanoid love. According to Nesta, 26% of people aged 18–34 in the UK said that they would happily date a humanoid robot, while 40% of respondents in a study by Fusion and said they can imagine falling in love with the Siri voice assistant.

A future of functioning androids, or ‘skin jobs’ as they are termed in the Blade Runner films, is not far off. Hyper-realistic silicone sex doll Harmony, designed by Abyss Creations, not only converses and flirts with users in a British accent, it also uses machine learning to understand their sexual preferences. The doll will be launched at the end of 2017 and cost £11,400 ($15,000, €12,700).

Perhaps the most prescient prediction in Blade Runner 2049 is that future cities will be forced to adapt to lethal environmental hazards.

While the Harmony robot is unable to walk – an electric motor would make the model overly cumbersome and expensive – more family friendly and mobile robot companions are already entering the technology market. Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri robot, which plays music, records video and uses its emotive eyes and glowing heart to create a reassuring presence, is a prime example.

Autonomous flying vehicles are less of a speculative prospect than many realise. Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) tested its Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT) self-flying vehicle service in September, part of the country’s target for autonomous transport to account for one-quarter of journeys in the country by 2030. The two-seater AAT is powered by clean electricity and has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes at a cruise speed of 30mph.

Police departments across the world may be radically transformed by the arrival of advanced flying vehicles, such as the Hoversurf Scorpion 3 hybrid drone-motorbike, which was unveiled at GITEX Technology Week in Dubai. While not yet capable of tracking, targeting and destroying targets, the vehicle features eight cameras that autonomously detect traffic violations.

Perhaps the most prescient prediction in Blade Runner 2049 is that future cities will be forced to adapt to lethal environmental hazards. Officer K lives in a world of choking pollution, snow, radiation and a huge coastal defence system along the Californian shoreline that keeps the raging Pacific Ocean at bay. The impact of environmental catastrophes on the world is something we explored in our macrotrend The Dislocated World, but here’s hoping that our future is more of a utopia than Blade Runner 2049’s dark dystopia.

For more on how consumers’ relationships with AI systems are changing, read our Neo-kinship macrotrend.