Skip to main content

What Blade Runner got right (and wrong) about 2019

Despite being a flop upon its initial release, 1982’s Blade Runner is today considered a masterpiece among science fiction movies. But how much did it get right?

With November 2019 being the far-flung month and year in which the movie is set, here’s our rundown of the technology the movie predicted correctly. And, in one case, very, very incorrectly.

Artificial beings

Warner Bros.

In the movie: Blade Runner presented a world in which humans would live among human-like artificial beings, or replicants. These bioengineered creations look like humans, but with superior strength, speed, agility, resilience, and intelligence. They can be distinguished only by their emotional response to questions.

Did it happen? Not quite to the same degree, maybe — but things have come a long way since 1982. Robots are increasingly a part of our everyday lives. While they’re not yet more advanced than humans in seemingly every way, robots and A.I. they are beating us at a growing number of endeavors. One has even been granted citizenship.

It’s #BladeRunner month. @lukedormehl asked me what I thought about the AI in the movie…

— Mark Riedl but with a new font (@mark_riedl) November 8, 2019

Thanks to advances in both robot design, underlying structures like artificial muscles and skin, and even things like lab-grown organs, they’re looking and working more like us every day as well. Oh, and the sex robot “pleasure model” version of replicant Blade Runner promised? That’s coming along for the ride. No pun intended.

Accuracy level: Sort of accurate.

Flying cars

Warner Bros.

In the movie: Flying cars are par for the course. Called spinners, these Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicles are used by both police and wealthy citizens as a more convenient replacement for vehicles like light jets and helicopters. The concept was later replicated in other movies like The Fifth Element.

Did it happen? Like the first answer, this one’s not a clear cut “yes” or “no.” Certainly, flying cars are not anywhere near as ubiquitous as they appear in the Blade Runner universe’s version of 2019. But it would be inaccurate to say they don’t exist.

A number of companies are working on bringing VTOL vehicles to market — including a range of newcomer startups and some established names such as Aston Martin. Give this one until 2029 and we’ll probably a whole lot closer.

Accuracy level: Sort of accurate.

Talking to computers

Esper Machine - 'Blade Runner' (HD)

In the movie: Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard uses an ESPER machine in his apartment to analyze photos using voice commands. His home’s “voice print identification” system is also able to recognize who he is.

Did it happen? The “zoom and enhance” trope of pulling high definition details from an image that would have just resulted in a mass of blurry pixels is something that still infuriates people who work with graphics. (Although, to be fair to Blade Runner, between higher megapixel cameras, better photo-editing software and image metadata, this isn’t a total miss on the movie’s part.)

The bit about speaking to your computer, though? Spot on. Here in 2019, the idea of using voice to interface with a machine is nothing out of the ordinary. Many of us converse every day with machines in the form of A.I. assistants like Siri and Google Assistant. Google Assistant is even able to identify the speaker and offer them tailored information accordingly.

In the ultimate testimony to this tech “just working,” many of us have forgotten this way of communicating with computers used to be sci-fi shorthand for “the movie you’re watching is set way in the future.”

Accuracy level: Accurate.

Video calling

Bladerunner video phone

In the movie: Deckard phones Sean Young’s replicant Rachel, using a video call to ask her for a drink.

Did it happen? Like A.I. assistants, video calls are now one of those things we take for granted. Whether it’s Skype or FaceTime, the idea of being able to see the person that you’re speaking to doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Apple has even incorporated some neat ARKit technology to sort out the eyeline problem so it really does feel like we’re looking at the person we’re speaking to.

Nitpickers may point out that no-one really uses video calls to ask people out on dates in 2019, though. To be totally accurate, Deckard should really have just sent a Lil Pump GIF and maybe an eggplant emoji for good measure.

Accuracy level: Accurate.

Space travel

blade runner blimp
Warner Bros.

In the movie: Blade Runner is set in a world in which colonies have been been established on a number of other planets.

Did it happen? “Space travel hasn’t panned out in the way the film suggests, with off-world colonies and attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion,” bestselling science fiction author Gareth L. Powell, author of the Embers of War trilogy, told Digital Trends.

He’s not wrong. This one is seemingly much further away than anything else on this list. It’s not a forgotten science fiction dream, though. Efforts to colonize Mars continue to advance, largely through the work of pioneers like Elon Musk (a science fiction fan himself.)

Accuracy level: It’s still just a dream.

It’s all about the Polaroids

Warner Bros.

In the movie: Blade Runner presents a futuristic version of the world that’s more advanced than the real 2019 in every single way — except for the fact that people still stare at printed Polaroid photos like they’re going out of style.

Did it happen? Did Polaroids go out of style, you mean? Yes. While Deckard might be able to hoover up some 2019 hipster cred for his habit of possessing physical photos, the rest of us have largely moved on. It’s all about Facebook, Instagram and the like these days.

Accuracy level: Totally inaccurate.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Meet the game-changing pitching robot that can perfectly mimic any human throw
baseball hitter swings and misses

Who’s your favorite baseball pitcher? Shane McClanahan? Sandy Alcantara? Justin Verlander? Whoever you said, two of the top sports-tech companies in the U.S. -- Rapsodo and Trajekt Sports -- have teamed up to build a robot version of them, and the results are reportedly uncannily accurate.

Okay, so we’re not talking about walking-talking-pitching standalone robots, as great a sci-fi-tinged MLB ad as that would be. However, Rapsodo and Trajekt have combined their considerable powers to throw a slew of different technologies at the problem of building a machine that's able to accurately simulate the pitching style of whichever player you want to practice batting against -- and they may just have pulled it off, too.

Read more
The best portable power stations
EcoFlow DELTA 2 on table at campsite for quick charging.

Affordable and efficient portable power is a necessity these days, keeping our electronic devices operational while on the go. But there are literally dozens of options to choose from, making it abundantly difficult to decide which mobile charging solution is best for you. We've sorted through countless portable power options and came up with six of the best portable power stations to keep your smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets functioning while living off the grid.
The best overall: Jackery Explorer 1000

Jackery has been a mainstay in the portable power market for several years, and today, the company continues to set the standard. With three AC outlets, two USB-A, and two USB-C plugs, you'll have plenty of options for keeping your gadgets charged.

Read more
CES 2023: HD Hyundai’s Avikus is an A.I. for autonomous boat and marine navigation
Demonstration of NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

This content was produced in partnership with HD Hyundai.
Autonomous vehicle navigation technology is certainly nothing new and has been in the works for the better part of a decade at this point. But one of the most common forms we see and hear about is the type used to control steering in road-based vehicles. That's not the only place where technology can make a huge difference. Autonomous driving systems can offer incredible benefits to boats and marine vehicles, too, which is precisely why HD Hyundai has unveiled its Avikus AI technology -- for marine and watercraft vehicles.

More recently, HD Hyundai participated in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, to demo its NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system for recreational boats. The name mashes together the words "neuron" and "boat" and is quite fitting since the Avikus' A.I. navigation tech is a core component of the solution, it will handle self-recognition, real-time decisions, and controls when on the water. Of course, there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes with HD Hyundai's autonomous navigation solution, which we'll dive into below -- HD Hyundai will also be introducing more about the tech at CES 2023.

Read more