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We created contact lenses that respond to emotion

In anticipation of Blade Runner 2049, Dazed science editor-at-large Lauren Bowker has designed lenses that mimic the replicants’ eyes from the original movie

Lauren Bowker is science editor-at-large for Dazed and founder of T H E U N S E E N, an innovation, product development and technology licensing company comprising of talent across design, science and engineering. Lauren merges her interest in the occult and science to create Magick for today’s world.

Let’s talk about Blade Runner. The hyped-up sequel set in 2049 is due out later this year – I thought it would be fun to see exactly how its predictions have come true. While we might be a way off robots and humans walking side by side, or hover cars weaving through skyscrapers, in many other and perhaps scarier ways Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott were spot on.

Vladimir Putin has tipped artificial intelligence to be the catalyst for World War 3, while Elon Musk said, “through the development of AI we are summoning the devil”. Oxford philosophers are hailing sentient machines as a greater threat to the world than climate change.

While Musk and Richard Branson are busy with the privatisation of space exploration and colonising other planets, paranoia on earth is rising according to the Office for National Statistics: one in six of us will need treatment for mental health in their lifetime in the UK alone.

Blade Runner is a mechanical, electronic, neon future of Hell that, as a Pagan, makes my eyeballs twitch. A future dystopian world where man and machine (called replicants) live together, trying not to kill one another, people rely on an advanced piece of tech called The Voight-Kampff to tell who is human and who is not. The futuristic “lie detector” measures emotion and empathy by monitoring involuntary eye dilations, colour changes and iris glows, separating humans and replicants.

In this imaginary world it is the androids that maintain empathy, not the humans. As humans we are so disconnected from each other in a technocolour, mass-polluted, mass-manufactured world  and our senses have been dulled. Our eyes no longer communicate our feelings, technology does instead.

That isn’t a world I want to live in. While science fiction continues to evolve into science fact, I looked to science to enhance my biological senses, not dull them.

Our eyes are often thought of as the window to our soul, but what if they could communicate even more distinctively, what if like replicants our eyes could also shift, changing colour to reveal our empathy and emotion? Well, now they can!

Here is a video of my eye, and in it a hydrogel I created that changes both colour and vibrancy in response to various fluctuations in my body – emotions, tear fluid, blood sugar, diet, health, UV radiation, the weather or even pollution.

Our eyes change colour naturally all the time. When we are happy, sad or angry our bodies release a hormone that changes the size of our pupil to be bigger, making eyes lighten and appear more vibrantly. When we’re sad or we cry our eye colour changes, becoming redder and contrasting with the colour of the iris, making the eye appear brighter.

This hydrogel reads the natural colour of your eye and produces an enhanced change to highlight the biological changes in your body, producing a more vivid colour. Think blue for sad, green for inquisitive, purple for wonder or golden when you laugh. These are replicant eyes for human beings, for the first time in the world.

James Stopforth - Director (@stopforthstudio)

Louis Mackay- DOP (@louismackay)