Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Data Scan: An Unkindness of Replicants

"If only you could see what I've
seen with your eyes."
My awareness of the replicant theme in cyberpunk really started with Blade Runner. There was a lovely series of scenes that really reinforced that these humanoid beings were not mere enhanced humans -- they were engineered, design to meet key specifications and performance ratings.

And they were unhappy with the status quo -- especially the built in natural obsolescence that was far shorter than human lifespans. A frightening prospect, considering the capabilities of the combat models.

Somehow implicitly tied to the concept of these manufactured humanoids is the corporation behind them. In Blade Runner, it was the Tyrell Corporation's "more human than human" motto that blared proudly about its achievements in creating this life form that was so close to our own.

I suppose that, in the case of this movie, replicants were used to explore (among many things) what the definition of life / sentience / humanity was in the face of technology that allowed you to recreate creatures that could arguably be crafted to be more 'human' than you.

In Bubblegum Crisis, an anime heavily influenced by Blade Runner, they're called Boomers. Again, they have different models of this artificial life form; some of them were apparently more prone to going crazy and running amok through the rainswept, neon-washed streets of Neo-Tokyo. Boomers, however, were more powerful creations, apparently requiring not only the ADPolice to quell outbreaks of violence, but also the heroic Knight Sabers (whose crusade against the evil corporation known as Genom was the focus of the series).

They also had an unnerving ability to fuse with electronic material and add to their own mass -- almost as though the technology they were constructed from allowed them to insinuate themselves into machinery and circuitry, bypassing security and overriding default functionality.

And while not all boomers were evil, those that were clearly showed how -- through sheer capability alone -- they were a major threat to humanity's technologically dependent existence. Unlike Blade Runner, this anime seemed to be more about the dangers of playing god with replicant technology and letting it grow beyond the capability of humanity to control.

But not all anime series represented the threat of the replicant as predominantly a physical one. The manga and anime Appleseed tackled the replicant / bioroid as being a benevolent race, but one that was visually indistinguishable from humans.

Not only did most humans view them as benign; many of the the bioroids shown believed themselves to be tools of humanity -- a necessary part of the new form of civilization, in order to prevent another world war from breaking out and driving humanity back into barbarism.

Still, when some bioroids begin arguing that engineering a better class of people (perhaps hybrids of the two species?), the already impressive action kicks into high gear, and the intrigue and politics get turned up a notch as well.

Meanwhile, a current TV show seems to be trying to delve into this space once more, with mandatory combat model android partners to police officers. Almost Human isn't treading the ground that Star Trek: The Next Generation trod with Data -- an android trying to become human. Instead, the android protagonist that partners with the human protagonist seems to be akin to Top 10's Joe Pi, who acknowledges that certain things are meant to simulate human interaction, that he is not human. However, he clearly feels that he is different (if not superior) to the other androids on the force, in that they operate on meticulously defined decision trees, while he operates on something more along the lines of raw intelligence and knowledge coupled with leaps in intuitive logic.

So far, I also enjoy how this iteration of the replicant has different model series with in the same type of model (an MX series android, within the set of combat android models), very much like how Blade Runner's Nexus 6 replicants were also of varying functions in society. It really speaks to how the replicant is a product of corporate production, where some models and operating systems really hit the sweet spot in terms of synergystic functionality -- and others are just 'good enough' until a better model comes along.

In my Cyberpunk campaign later this year, I intend to revisit many of these themes -- but I also plan to add the concept of the software upgrade, backups, and rollbacks to really reinforce how replicants, despite their amazing approximation of humanity, are still something other than human; something detached from what we currently consider the human condition.


  1. I'm enjoying Almost Human as well.

    I'm not sure there are any replicants in the show, but Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex kind of hits the sweet spot philosophically for me.

  2. Always a good question, and I suppose it depends on your definition of a replicant.

    GITS: SAC and SAC 2 really raise the question of humanity vs. cyber -- though the focus seems to be mostly on memories and ghost hacking...

    ... but Shirow Masamune did have that in the source material.


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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