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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 13:10 GMT
How much of Blade Runner has come true?

We love to look for echoes of our present in the sci-fi films of the past. A new UN report suggests 1982's rather bleak Blade Runner may be in danger of proving all too accurate.

The world's climate could soon resemble the urban smog shown in the popular science fiction movie Blade Runner, suggests a report by UN scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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The sort of chemical pollution which keeps the futuristic Los Angeles of the film in permanent, drizzling twilight, could actually spread across much of the northern hemisphere in the coming decades, warns the UN.

Blade Runner - the story of a policeman on the trail of four murderous genetically-engineered androids - was one of the first sci-fi blockbusters to paint a dystopian (i.e. non-Utopian) picture of the future.

Although set in 2019, the film deals with issues and problems familiar to us today, says Ed Lawrenson from Sight and Sound magazine.

"Blade Runner was always a film that is very much about 'now'. It shows a future that can be recognised by people, because it is based on trends that we can see around us."

Director Ridley Scott took issues already noticeable in the 1980s, such as urban development, genetic engineering, and, of course, climate change, and took them to what he thought was their next logical stage.

So what else did Blade Runner get right?

Technoir babble

Though most the film's dialogue is in English, the residents of LA in 2019 also converse in a patois of Japanese, German and Spanish.

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner
"What's Spanglish for 'help'?"
Though few of us have embraced Esperanto, the 115-year-old "universal" language devised by L L Zamenhof, a de facto global tongue has emerged - English.

More people now speak English as a second language than as their mother tongue, a factor which may explain the development of some Blade Runneresque hybrids.

Spanglish is spoken by some 31 million people. This mix of Spanish and English words was born in the Hispanic communities of United States, but has since spread back into Latin America.

An American academic has documented 6,000 distinct Spanglish words - including "bipiar" (to page someone), "gróceri" (a supermarket) and "aftersheif" (aftershave).

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Singapore too boasts hybrid language, Singlish - English punctuated by words such as "obiang" (bad) and "kayu" (stupid).

Variations on English may not have it all their own way though. The languages of China may play an increasingly important global role.

Thanks to the rapid growth of the internet in the People's Republic, it is predicted Chinese will become the dominant e-language well before 2019.

Eyes on the skies

The skies of Ridley Scott's LA are almost as crowded as its teeming streets.

Huge "blimp" billboards roaming above the city might have seemed fanciful in 1982, but the airship is now promising to make a comeback.

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Is anyone still not getting a signal?
Dirigibles - currently still an exotic sight in our skies - have been suggested as perfect floating platforms for mobile phone masts.

Sky Station, a company fronted by former US sectretary of state Alexander Haig, has said 250 airships could offer video-phone and internet access to 80% of the world's population.

A German company also has hopes of creating a new generation of super blimps - capable of carrying huge 160-tonne payloads.

The flying cars envisaged in Blade Runner may be farther off. However, the public appetite for personal air transport seems as keen as ever.

Witness the excitement surrounding the development of the SoloTrek, a prototype helicopter backpack.

The SoloTrek
"Are you leaving that parking space?"
"We have all been dreaming of such a vehicle for many years," said Michael Moshier, boss of the SoloTrek's makers. "Now the dream is about to become a reality."

Such is our desire for highways in the sky, that when top US inventor Dean Kamen admitted to be working on something to "profoundly" change our cites, many BBC News Online users suggested a Blade Runner "hover car" was on the cards.

More human than human

Robots and androids are nothing new in sci-fi. But just as Stanley Kubrick's 2001 pondered the implications of building super-intelligent computers, Blade Runner looks at what might happen if we create machines in our image.

The "replicant" androids which run amok in the film are greatly troubled by their lack of meaningful memories and emotional inexperience.

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The film's message has not been lost on those developing so-called artificial intelligence. Dr. Anne Foerst, an AI researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Lutheran minister, uses Blade Runner as a teaching aid.

"The movie raises this wonderful question: how do humanoid creatures feel about having been created by us and how do they deal with their human-made limitations?"

Not all the movie's predictions have come true. The cityscape was littered with advertising hoardings and neon displays - many of which related to companies which have since suffered the so-called curse of Blade Runner.

Airline Pan Am, games console maker Atari and telephone company Bell were ubiquitous in the early 1980s. Today, let alone in 2019, they have largely disappeared from the public consciousness.

So much for future gazing.

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