Replicants and Cyborgs: Exploring the Future of Technology Through Science Fiction Films




Swift, Judith

Advisor Department

Communication Studies




Link to Full Video:



sci-fi; robots; film; future; technology; science


From the very beginning of cinema, there has been a contingent of filmmakers who are drawn to look towards the future, trying to predict what our world will look like and what new things will be possible for us in everyday life. However, the average consumer has to wonder about the validity of many of the underlying scientific premises and how many of these associated predictions could ultimately become reality. I have always been a fan of sci-fi films, but my limited scientific and technical knowledge prevents me from understanding some of the major issues that have the power to forecast crucial aspects of our lives. My senior honors thesis project is intended to enrich my understanding of these issues.

I focused my research on five main films, each with unique aesthetic styles and concerns for the future. These films are: Blade Runner, Event Horizon, Brazil, Soylent Green, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I conducted interviews with academics whose professional expertise enabled them to offer me their educated opinions on topics involving robotics, artificial intelligence, the Earth’s carrying capacity, space travel, and society’s evolving relationship with the government, among others. They were able to share with me the historical progression of subjects in which they specialize, and discuss the plausibility of potential technological advancements. Questions under discussion were: What are the fundamental challenges in creating a replicant identical to an actual human being? Will a computer ever become powerful enough to be self-aware and “incapable of error?” Is it possible for New York City alone to support 44 million people living within its boundaries? These are the kinds of questions to which I wanted answers, and my interview subjects helped me to consider the pathways to those answers or the challenges that leave them in question.

I chose to present my findings, along with clips from each respective film, in the form of a video commentary. I wanted to turn an academic endeavor into something interactive and dynamic for my audience. In keeping with the theme of the future and of evolving, I aimed to share my conclusions with the audience in an interesting and engaging way. Each issue that I present in my video is paired with handpicked examples of what filmmakers have prophesized about years in advance. After viewing my presentation I want someone to be able to watch a science fiction film and either call the veracity of the director’s premise into question or realize that the film may be portraying a very feasible future.