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June 25, A Strangely Cool Day in Tech History and Do Lawyers Dream of Blade Runner?

Twenty five years ago Blade Runner was released. Forty years ago Our World, the first live international satellite broadcast, aired. It was watched by more than 400 million people and concluded with the Beatles performing “All You Need Is Love” which was specially written for the broadcast. NPR’s coverage of Our World’s anniversary notes that Marshall McCluhan’s famous or infamous ideas about technology were arguably manifesting themselves with the broadcast. (Indeed, McLuhan himself commented on the event as part of the event and one can see it here. It is a longish clip (about 11 minutes for McLuhan’s part but if one want to hear about views regarding oral traditions, forced cultural change, and the like it is worth a listen. Remember this clip is 40 years old.) Say what one might about the man’s odd phrases and metaphors, the basic ideas about connected, global villages and challenges from technology have relevance today. That ongoing relevance is what reminds me of Blade Runner.

The film brought out key aspects of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which was published in 1968, a year after Our World occurred). Whether one thinks society has or has not become what Dick described, the ideas of synthetic biology, mood altering devices linked to others and their view of the world, and environmental disaster are
present in today’s society. So where’s the law, technology, society angle? Although some argue about what if anything literature can tell the law, in some cases, science fiction poses and in a sense theorizes about the sort of hypotheticals legal theorists want to consider. This point is not asserting that the literature folks should be taken as gospel regarding the way things will or ought to be. Rather, the writings allow one to consider and explore possibilities for our future. These possibilities offer legal theorists a way to look at possible futures and current legal systems to see where the law might enable, hinder, or not have a way to apply to the future. Here is one example of where science fiction, society and the law intersect. A recent Daily Show had an interview with Greg Bear, a science fiction author who with other writers have advised the Department of Homeland Security about bioterrosim and how to use face recognition concepts in actual security scenarios which is in fact in development.
Beyond the pure legal dimension, folks may look to film or video games to see where funds should go for the future of the United States. For example, no less than the MacArthur Foundation is giving $1.1 million to a middle and high school with a focus on video games “to teach critical 21st century skills and literacies.” So perhaps this completes a circle.
Forty years ago someone saw the power of satellites and showed how technology connects the world. Twenty five years ago, a film posited what that world would look like. Today, someone else has indicated they are not sure exactly what the world will look like, but that it will have robust interactive game-like interfaces and so certain skills will be necessary to navigate that future. In short, a decade from now blogs may be dead, holodeck-like multi-use rooms may replace living rooms and offices, robots may finally do all the heavy labor only to find that they have contaminated our food source, and problems of rich versus poor, race, and more may still confront society. Whatever the future may be, society will change, and law will be there to see where it fits.

In any event, Blade Runner, Final Cut will be released this fall in theaters and then on DVD. I for one will enjoy seeing where fantasy and reality seem to intersect and diverge.

1 thought on “June 25, A Strangely Cool Day in Tech History and Do Lawyers Dream of Blade Runner?”

  1. The games-as-education angle is very important…and perhaps the chief way educators can reach those parts of a generation addled by what Postman calls Technopoly.

    [Note–this sentence really emphasizes the tension between form and substance….I could drop “those parts of” and it would sound a lot better, but would be unfair!]

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