Over the holidays, I was struggling to write a column for this space about predictions. What would 2019 bring? As you’re about to read, I didn’t really come up with any compelling answers.
What I did have the time for was “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to the 1982 original starring Harrison Ford as a bounty hunter who tracks androids in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. At two hours and 45 minutes, it was a pretty good way to avoid writing this piece for a while.
That original film, based on the Philip K. Dick 1968 novel “Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep,” was set in 2019. It depicted an Earth with a ruined climate, crawling with sophisticated androids who could pose as real people. And drivers piloted flying cars above crowded urban streets that were chocked with neon and digital advertisements.
That film’s writers pushed Dick’s original dystopic period from 1992, wisely surmising that it would be difficult to imagine the realities of the novel only 10 years in the future. The new film kept with the original film’s premise that this dystopia would be upon us by 2019.
In truth, I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction. But I do respect the mission of the science fiction writer: To imagine answers to big, hypothetical questions – a bit like Johnny Carson’s old Carnac the Magnificent routine, but instead of jokes, the answers are for hypotheticals.
Nearly every science fiction story is an extended take on a hypothetical question, e.g. “What if people could teleport?” or “What if earth were invaded by Mars?” A Dick story that ponders the hypothetical “What would the world be like if Germany won World War II?” is the basis of a hit TV show on Amazon Prime: “The Man in the High Castle.”
Dick’s original piece rose above that sort of simplification, asking big questions about ethics, motivations and what makes humans human – subjects that are too big to grapple with in these weekly 500-word columns – but at the base, there is that leap of prediction: What if androids walked among us and we couldn’t tell the difference between them and real people? It’s a remarkable prediction.
What strikes me as more remarkable is that the premise that such a reality would take place in 1992 was entirely plausible to those who read the book. While the apocalypse might be easier to imagine for all of us in 2019, a future of autonomous androids and flying cars still seems a lot more distant than even the 2049 of last year’s “Blade Runner” sequel.
If recent events are any indication, making predictions about the future are impossible. I could predict what 2049 might bring safely, because chances are, no one will remember what I said when we finally arrive to a future still 30 years away.
What’s happening tomorrow, next month or this year is anyone’s guess. I think I’m more comfortable leaving that up to the science fiction writers out there.