Illustration Friday - Robot
The blurred line between reality and illusion with regard to what makes a being human is a primary theme in both Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott's loose 1982 film adaptation, Blade Runner. Both works portray a dystopian future Earth (in the original edition of the novel, the "future" is 1992; in later editions and in the film, it is 2021) where humans who haven't elected or been permitted to emigrate to off-world colonies live in crowded cities and suffer illnesses and mutations caused by radioactive fallout.
Among the incentives to emigrate to the off-world colonies is the service of androids (called "andies" in the novel and "replicants" in the film). Made of biological compounds and endowed with intelligence and implanted memories, these androids are virtually indistinguishable from humans, except for their inability to feel empathy with life. Nonetheless, many androids escape their off-world slavery in search of freedom and the opportunity to live as humans. On Earth, bounty hunters known as blade runners are employed to detect and "retire" androids who are considered extremely dangerous because of their strength, cunning, and lack of emotion.
The central issue of what makes a being human is developed in both works through the characterization of the protagonist Rick Deckard and the various androids with whom he comes into contact. Among the most poignant expressions of this question comes in the film after the replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) saves blade runner Deckard's (Harrison Ford) life and then dies at his programmed time. Deckard muses, "I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody's life, my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die."
What makes us human, if not those eternal questions?