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Are Blade Runner’s Replicants “Human”? Descartes and Locke Have Some Thoughts

Smithsonian, October 3, 2017

In contemplating a future with automated humans, what happens when we can no longer tell robots apart from humans? Contemporary science fiction in combination with classical philosophy may help us find an answer. Blade Runner: 2049 is a Hollywood film in theaters now, coming out thirty years after the first film directed by Harrison Ford, that deals with the concept of “replicas”, machines that merely look human. However, they also have the capacity to look and speak just as humans do, contain implanted memories, and can feel emotions and empathy – traits that would make these automatons pass as human for philosopher such as Descartes and Locke. But does that make them human? For Associate Professor of Philosophy Susan Schneider, perhaps that question is irrelevant. “It’s a very strong case for treating [a non-human] with the same legal rights we give a human. We wouldn’t call [a replica] a human, but maybe a person,” she says.


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