Mining Movies: Part 2

This month's "Mining Movies" looks at Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's film noir set in the year 2019. It's a sad time for Earth, which is in the throes of environmental degradation so severe that other planets are being prepared for colonization. The main source of labor for this preparation work are "replicants," organic robots that look and behave like humans, except for their inability to express real emotions. They have been banned from Earth because they staged a revolt in one of the colonies. Enter Harrison Ford as detective Rick Deckard. He is a "blade runner," a cop who specializes in determining who is human and who is replicant. It is up to him to enforce the ban.

Computer technology appears in Blade Runner as many futurists of today predict it will: invisibly. It is implied, but rarely overtly shown, except for one particular piece of technology that Deckard uses to catch the bad guy-in this case, a rogue replicant.

The technology looks like a 1990s TV/VCR combination unit and behaves like an extraordinarily powerful photo scanner that responds to voice commands. Deckard inserts a photo into the unit, and it appears on the screen superimposed on a grid, giving the photo the appearance of a map. To find clues hidden in the photo, he talks to the unit, telling it to pan right, pan left, enlarge certain areas of the photo, and so on. He finally zeros in on one small area of the photo (a reflection in a mirror) that would be no larger than a few pixels by today's standards, and he enlarges it exponentially, without any loss of resolution. Imagine the magnifying glass tool in Photoshop on steroids, blowing an image up to 20,000x without any pixilation, and you get the idea. No matter how closely he zooms in, the image on his screen is clear. The detail is unthinkable by today's standards.

But not by tomorrow's. One day, we will use this technology in biology to allow students to see the micro world in stunning detail. Students will "surf" the photo using their own voices to navigate, moving from one element of the photo to another, cross referencing what they find as they build their own understanding of what they are looking at with the help of an integrated knowledge database. And once again, parents and teachers will mutter to themselves "...sure wish we had this stuff when I was going to school."

Jason Ohler has been a digital humanist, pioneer, and keynote speaker in the field of digital age living, learning, and leadership for two decades.