SINCE Blade Runner was released in 1982 some of its science fiction wonders – from computers in cars to giant televisual billboards – have become facts of contemporary life. Like many science fiction films it anticipated many of the tech developments to come. In the week of the release of Blade Runner 2049 we look at some of our most influential science fiction movies, and ask, are we almost there? How close are we to a world of sex bots, Martian colonies, time-travel technology or genocidal cyborgs? When will the replicants finally be with us?

Blade Runner 2049: Are replicants almost with us?

The idea of the replicant, the being that looks human but is either machine or bioengineered, has haunted us for decades. Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner seared it into our visual imagination in 1982, but even before that the publication of Philip K Dick’s Do Android’s Dream Of Electric Sheep, on which the film was based, had us snared. It’s now almost 2019, the year in which Blade Runner is set, and so far it seems we are not yet close to having replicants living among us. Or are we?

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One of the problems with working out how close we are to creating a replicant, is that it’s not clear what these human-like beings are. Clones? Cyborgs? Machines? Director of the new Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve, has described them as “synthetic humans”, which are “not very far from humans”.

What’s clear from the original film is that they are some kind of biorobotic form. Let's for a moment assume they are more like robots than clones and, indeed, in the original Philip K Dick account they are explicitly rogue androids. How close are we to creating an android?

Sethu Vijayakumar, Professor of Robotics at the University of Edinburgh, observes that there are two elements to this. One is creating a machine that has a human-like form. The other is developing the artificial intelligence.

The former is developing, he says, “at pace” – the latter is proving more of a challenge. AI's ability to recognise social cues and intentions is still far from sophisticated enough. “AI needs,” he says, “to make a huge leap in terms of understanding behaviour and predicting behaviour.”

Vijayakumar is currently working on a project with the NASA Valkyrie robot which is designed to develop software around what he describes as “shared autonomous behaviour”. Here, the robot must execute tasks – under human, or computer orders – but has to work out the fine-tuning of how to move around to execute it. Effectively to do what our subconscious minds might do under conscious command.

Meanwhile, androids are being created that look increasingly human. For instance, Hiroshi Ishiguro’s autonomous android, Erica, which, through motion sensors, can mimic the expressions of a human she interacts with and display a range of emotions. Ishiguro describes his work with Erica as “artistic”. He says, “I try to represent humanity in robots.”

One of the big challenges for those creating human-like robots, says Vijayakumar, is how to create skin. “Our skin is amazingly versatile piece of material, which senses touch, temperature, wind, some sort of relative speed of things. It’s a very multi-functional thing and we’re a long way off developing anything like it.”

But there is scope for something else, a creation, perhaps, more like the replicant that is a meld of machine and biology. Scientists at Oxford University are currently looking at technology in which muscle and tendon grafts are attached to robotics. Vijayakumar observes, “There’s a massive role for some sort of hybrid of biological systems and robotics.”

Androids tend to have a number of different functions in sci-fi. One is to be our robot slaves, to do both our unwanted (and sometimes our wanted) jobs. Already, in 2017, robots and computers have taken over many of our activities and, year on year, scientists are developing new ways for them to replace human labour. Soon, futurists promise, robots will be our carers, our nurses, our teachers. There are even some, already in creation, who can provide us with sex. While not as sophisticated as Blade Runner's Pris (Daryl Hannah) their development is accelerating.

Abyss, for instance, hitherto a manufacturer of silicone sex dolls, is now creating companions with AI and animatronics. But how do we define consent, when these machines are programmed to say ‘yes’? And what impact will they have on human relations?

We are a long way from creating the perfect replicant. But perhaps, in any case, that's not the main thrust of current AI. As Vijayakumar points out, it may be that the biggest strand in AI development is not about creating robots in our likeness, but about integrating them into the architecture of our lives, our homes, our cars, our bodies. “It’s not 'Here’s an R2D2'. It’s a whole ecosystem.” is how he puts it.

The Martian: How soon will we have gardens on Mars

HeraldScotland: First look: Matt Damon stars in The Martian trailer

The year in which Ridley Scott’s The Martian is set, 2035, doesn’t now seem an entirely unreasonable bet for a date by which we might be visiting, if not colonising Mars. At least, not if the statements of Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, are anything to go by. Last month, Musk announced he planned to get people to the Red Planet within seven years – and with the help of a vehicle called the BFR (Big F**ing Rocket).

The race to Mars is on and the real thrust is coming from private companies, tech billionaires like Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos whose Blue Origin company is also developing space technology.

But what of the potato-growing gardens that sustained Matt Damon’s character through his Robinson Crusoe stint on Mars in Scott's film? They, too, are being developed. NASA earlier this year announced it was sending a space garden, known as the Advanced Plant Habitat, on board the International Space Station, and the European Space Agency is involved in similar projects. Christophe Lasseur, a scientist working for the ESA, described to me how their space gardens form part of a wider recycling system, aimed at reducing the biomass sent up into space. At the heart of the project, currently, is the humble potato. Why? “The main reason is that they bring a lot of energy for the crew. Growing lettuce is nice. But the nutrition value is very limited.”

Passengers: How close are we to developing suspended animation?

We all know the drill. If you’re going to send someone a vast distance across the universe on a journey that will last many years,you’ve got to put them into shiny, glass-fronted pods where they will sleep in suspended animation. That is what happens in movies like the recent Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

But is the idea of putting people into some sort of long-term cryo-sleep credible? It seems so. And there’s a strong desire to make it happen – principally because it would reduce consumption of water and food, by, as one NASA study calculated, around 70 per cent.

Scientists believe that a form of hibernation may indeed be made to work. Among those exploring it is US-based developer, SpaceWorks, which, with funding from NASA, is taking the technique of “induced hypothermia”, used in patients who have suffered heart attack or brain trauma to reduce metabolism, to create a kind of hibernation. But, here, astronauts would not be put to sleep for years – but space nap for a couple of weeks.

Looper: Will we travel back in time?

“Time travel,” says Joe Simmons in the 2012 time-travel assassin movie Looper, “has not yet been invented. But 30 years from now, it will have been.”

It’s the dream that prompted some of the earliest sci-fi – H G Wells, The Time Machine, for instance – and still fuels countless fiction, but time travel is a technology most scientists discount all together. Back in the 1990s there was a brief flicker of excitement when a physicist called J Richard Gott produced calculations that suggested time travel into the past might be possible. However Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Edward Farhi then came along and crunched the figures, imagining he had infinite technology and resources available to warp 2-D space-time, and found it entirely unrealisable.

"Einstein's theory of general relativity,” he said, “seems to conspire to end the universe before you're able to travel back in time and kill your grandfather before your parents were born. This convinced me that travelling back in time is not possible."

Terminator and Ex Machina: Will AI supersede us?HeraldScotland:

In Alex Garland’s 2015 sci-fi movie, Ex Machina, Nathan Bateman ruminates, “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa.”

The idea that the machines will one day supersede us has been a key terror haunting science fiction for decades. Among the films that have been most responsible for putting the fear into us have been James Cameron’s Terminator movies delivering, as they did, Skynet’s synthetic intelligent machine network of unstoppable cyborgs.

Back when The Terminator was released in 1984 we were a long way from engineering that kind of artificial intelligence but now, in an age when a computer Deep Blue, can beat Garry Kasparov at chess, the possibility looms ever closer. Hence some of our biggest thinkers and tech entrepreneurs are worrying about it.

Among them is Stephen Hawking, as well as SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who has warned that AI is a "fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation”.

Musk is exploring the possibility of humankind saving itself by merging with artificial intelligence through direct connections with the brain. To this end he set up a company called Neuralink. When asked via tweet if the idea of this was to counter a possible Terminator-style Skynet, Musk answered, yes, that was the "aspiration".

The moment when AI becomes as sophisticated as human intelligence is often called “the singularity”. However, Toby Walsh, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University Of New South Wales, has pointed out that most of the people who believe in “the singularity” do not actually work in the field of AI. His point is that what we need to worry about is not “smart AI”, but “stupid AI”, of the type we’re already seeing in the algorithms of Facebook.

Walsh observes, “We don’t have to fear that the machines are going to take over any time soon. But we do have to worry about the impact even stupid AI is starting to have on our lives. It will widen inequality. It will put some people out of work. It will corrode political debate.”