’Rutger Hauer, the Dutch actor who portrayed Roy Batty in the film Blade Runner, passed away recently. To celebrate his iconic role, we are revisiting this piece on the Voight-Kampff test, a device to detect if a person is really human.
Is Rick Deckard a replicant, an advanced bioengineered being? The jury concerning the character in 1982’s Blade Runner is still out. Harrison Ford, who plays Deckard in the film, thinks he’s human. Ridley Scott, the film’s director, is adamant that he’s not.* Hampton Fancher, the screenwriter for the original film and the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, out today, prefers the ambiguity: “I like asking the question,” he’s said, “but I think it’s nonsense to answer it.”
At the center of the question is a fictional test designed to distinguish between replicants and humans, called the Voight-Kampff test. It elicits emotions in the test subject that replicants supposedly can’t have, then monitors physiological responses, like pupillary motion and reaction time. But could such a test really distinguish between humans and replicants? Nautilus caught up with Chris Frith, Emeritus Professor of the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London to find out. He’s spent his career studying the neuroscience of consciousness and emotion, specifically its conscious and unconscious processes, and says he’s been influenced by Philip K. Dick’s stories, particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which Blade Runner is based on.…’