Blade Runner isn't just a movie title, it's a job title. And, unlike the name suggests, this job doesn't entail running around on roller blades (though I would definitely pay good money to watch Harrison Ford try). So, if they're not roller blading badasses, what are Blade Runners, really? Despite the fact that there are no totally '90s modes of transportation involved, Blade Runners actually have a pretty interesting job. And, though the job was first introduced in 1982's Blade Runner, which takes place in 2019, Blade Runners are still very much a thing when the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, picks up 30 years later.
Blade Runners are, in the case of the film, LAPD police officers tasked with one very important mission: kill replicants — or "retire" them. In the world of Blade Runner, replicants are essentially fancy robots. Machines bioengineered to look and think and speak like humans, who have fake memories implanted in their heads, and live as humans, except they have no free will. Replicants are created to work specific jobs. They are a kind of slave class if you will, and when they get out of control or run out of usefulness, Blade Runners, like Ford's Rick Deckard, are dispatched to put them down. As Deckard explains in Blade Runner, "Replicants are like any other machine — they're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem."
It might sound glamorous, but being a Blade Runner isn't all exciting, high speed chases and, uh, executions. There's actually a whole bunch of detective work involved, specifically interrogations. To help ensure that Blade Runners don't make mistakes and kill actual people instead of replicants, the officers use what is called the Voight-Kampff machine. A kind of lie detector test, the machine measures heart rate, eye movement, and other physical responses to a series of questions to determine a subject's emotional response. For a veteran Blade Runner, like Deckard, it can still take anywhere from 20 to 100 questions to determine if a subject is a replicant or not.
In the first film, the interrogation process becomes more complicated as replicants themselves become more complex. Specifically, the test becomes somewhat less effective with replicants like Rachael, who, it's shown in the original movie, believes she is human. Furthermore, it's established that once a replicant senses it might be the prey of a Blade Runner, it becomes increasingly deadly — the replicant version of fight or flight seems very much to be fight.
In the 30 years between the events of Blade Runner and 2049, not much has changed in the life of a Blade Runner. K (Ryan Gosling), the new Blade Runner protagonist, is still saddled with the job of retiring replicants. And the job still doesn't involve roller blades. Most importantly, however, is that it's still an undesirable position. This might sound trivial, but the nature of the job shouldn't be discounted, especially considering one of the most pervasive questions posed in the original film: is Rick Deckard a replicant?
For over 30 years, Ford has been asked whether or not Rick Deckard is human, and though that question has never had a definitive answer, it turns out that his job could be a major clue. Ford recently discussed the debate with IGN, saying this about replicants: "They're assigned to their lives. ...They're owned. And so they can be assigned to a lifespan, to a horrible job. And then they can be retired according to the wishes of their maker." The idea that the LAPD would create a replicant and then assign it to work as a Blade Runner doesn't seem that farfetched, now does it?