On Blade Runner: Human Stupidity and Artificial Intelligence

21Oct14

The character named Leon in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) initially comes off as an average “Joe,” or “Bob,” or more exotic “John” in the opening scene of the movie. He is balding and probably a size XL, appearing to have a beer belly sausaged by a faded L.e.i. jean waistline to match. He might as well be wearing a Bass Fish Fest of ‘81 memorabilia shirt. He looks like an American high school football player turned fifty. Under the Voight-Kampff test, he has communication skill– not of his own father’s post-‘nam bravado, but of his mother’s over-attentive, undirected, and scatter-minded senescence.

Fooled we are when Leon kills his interviewee at the appropriate, most vulnerable moment. He’s actually an artificial and intelligent killing machine, who is Roy Batty’s muscle in the movie’s crew of replicant antagonists. Blade Runner, Radical Alterityeconomist and Professor Marc Guillaume, and the rest of the philosophical conversation concerning artificial intelligence (AI) take us for a trip through future memories’ lane and spur questions regarding human stupidity and intelligent machines.

Guillaume opens Radical Alterity (2007) with a heading titled, “Artificial Stupidity or the Intelligence of Others.” He says, “Machines represent a first access point to an understanding of human thought” (Baudrillard). So in a fictional context such as Blade Runner: Where and how do we access understanding human thought when machine or artificial intelligence seems a more worthy philosophical concept to understand? To underline an internal link and to clarify: Why care to understand human thought when AI is… superior? more interesting? more exciting?

Artificial IntelligenceAI is “the theoretical discipline aiming to understand intelligence… by designing machines that can think; the thinking machine-based beings created by human beings,” according to Ryan Nichols and colleagues (Nichols, 262).

Why tackle the artificial intelligence discipline at all?

Because of Leon, that’s why. At Leon’s face value, we see an embodiment of human limitedness in age, health, and cognitive complexity. Many men who resemble Leon today have possibly asked themselves after a long day of work, or after weeping over their high school yearbook signings: Is there more than this? Can’t I be more? And how?

Thus, out of the dissonance we ALL feel — between being good, or ok… or human, and hoping to be better, more… or posthuman — we imagined Roy Batty and Leon and Rachel, and reveled in the fact that we even had the mental capacity to “create” them.

Blade RunnerWe may not all be creative geniuses like Ridley Scott, but we each fantasize artificial intelligence competently, yet with the wistfulness of a housewife who hopes to dance after years of letting herself go.

Every time we long for the past, sigh at the present, and pine after future dreams never to be accomplished, AI – or our pretext dreams of AI, more accurately – is discussed in our inner dialogue. It can be a happy alternative reality for some, or a cognitive hell for others.

The conversation is silenced however, when we finally acknowledge what may be the only absolute truth of this world beside taxes — imminent Death and the stoppage of our time to dream of better days.

 

References

Nichols, R., Smith, N. D., & Miller, F. (2009). Philosophy through science fiction: A coursebook with readings (pp. 262-266). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Baudrillard, J., & Guillaume, M. (2008). Radical alterity. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext.

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