‘Blade Runner 2049’ dives deeper on AI to transcend the original

In Entertainment

The new models

Within the first few minutes, we learn that Ryan Gosling’s “K,”
our new cyborg-hunting detective, is actually a replicant.
There’s no ambiguity, like there is with Harrison Ford’s Rick
Deckard in the first film. That immediately gives his job an
added weight: He’s hunting his own kind, and he’s well aware of
the inherent moral conflict.

We learn through the opening text that a lot has changed since
2019. The Tyrell Corporation unveiled its Nexus 8 replicants,
which had a longer, human-like lifespan. That’s exactly what
Roy Batty and crew were fighting for in the first film, as they
were older Nexus 6 models who could live for only a short four
years. Rebellious replicants engineered a global blackout in
2022, in hopes of erasing identification records that were
being used to hunt them down. That led to a ban on replicants
altogether, which was lifted only when Wallace Corporation, a
successor to the original replicant maker, Tyrell, proved that
he could make models that were more obedient than the Nexus 8.

K is one of these newer replicants, which still have longer
lifespans but differ from older models by their increased
reliance on embedded memories. That’s something we saw with
Rachel (and potentially Deckard) in the first film, but in
Blade Runner 2049 it’s used as even more of a psychic
cushion. Replicants are still aware that they’re not “real,”
but the memories give them the illusion of human experience —
a birthday party growing up, perhaps, or playing with other
children when they were a child. While you could view the
memories as a “kindness,” as one of their creators describes
them, they’re clearly a type of invisible shackle meant to keep
replicants content with their subservient role in society.

Throughout the film, K is on the verge of an existential
crisis. In the opening scene, he reluctantly subdues and kills
a rogue Nexus 8 who’s trying to live out his years as a protein
farmer. He’s shaken afterwards but takes the encounter in
stride, since that’s what he’s programmed to do. During a
mandatory synchronization test — which appears to be an
evolved form of the Voight-Kampff exam for finding replicants
in the first film — K proves that he’s performing at
“baseline.” The movie doesn’t explain what that means, but we
can assume that it refers to being within the limits of his
programming. Throughout the movie, though, he also strives to
push against those boundaries to become a “real boy.”

A replicant savior

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