One of the many great delights in life is to question the things we usually take for granted. Through art, many people have expressed their opinions, questions and even provided answers on any kind of subjects; most of the common tropes and stories revolve around the theme about our humanity.
Specifically, I’d like to mention two instances: Blade Runner and Deus Ex. There will be no spoilers.
Blade Runner is a 1982 neo-noir dystopian science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, based on the novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. It’s about a group of rogue replicants (genetically engineered androids) and a Blade Runner (a special police operative) hunting them down.
On the other hand we have Deus Ex, a cyber-punk action-RPG developed by Ion Storm and published in 2000. The game also focuses in a near, dystopian future where the gap between humans and technology is rapidly closing. The player takes the role of a human UN anti-terrorist that has been enhanced with nanotechnology that grants him superhuman abilities.
Having experienced both many years apart (I watched the film before playing the game), it was not until last year, while I was hearing Blade Runner’s OST, that something came to my mind; it reminded me of the theme song of Deus Ex.
All pieces started to fit together, Blade Runner and Deus Ex are opposite sides of the same coin: the boundaries of our own humanity.
Although there have been many different versions of the film and all of them have differences with the book, Blade Runner is essentially a work that, by implicitly asking what separates replicants from humans, really tries to answer: how much must you add until something can be considered human? For that matter, replicants and humans are virtually identical except for shorter lifespans, genetically manipulated intelligence, strength, stamina and, more importantly, a lack of real emotions and empathy.
Philip K. Dick once said:
The purpose of this story as I saw it was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized. At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Finally, Deckard must question what he is doing, and really what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?
On the other hand, Deus Ex, by focusing on human-technology integration, tries to answer up until what point do humans retain their humanity after enhancing themselves with artificial elements; in other words, how much can you take away while still being considered human?
What organs have a direct and determinant impact on who we are? Is our brain more important for our humanity than our kidneys? What makes your computer, YOUR computer? Is it the hardware or the software? What if you change or upgrade any of those? These questions lead towards a road that goes beyond the scope of this post, but things such as Theseus’ Paradox or Brains In A Vat are just an example of its depth.
Technology is quickly building its way into our global culture and our dependence to computers and the Internet is undeniable. We are slowly replacing real life interaction for the virtual facade of social networks and online communities; we live in a digital era and the expected course for our future is to continue forward, ever-changing.
Ultimately, I think the definition of human is subjective, but both Blade Runner and Deus Ex do a great job refining the boundaries of what we might call humanity.
“Who we are is but a stepping stone to what we can become.”