Voight-Kampff Empathy Test


The Voight-Kampff test attempts to distinguish androids from human beings by autonomic responses to questions that should elicit an empathic response. Because it seeks to gather and measure biological information for security purposes, the empathy testing procedure is a kind of biometric identification system. It measures bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions. In the film two replicants take the test, Leon and Rachael, and Deckard tells Tyrell that it usually takes 20 to 30 cross-referenced questions to distinguish a replicant; in contrast with the book, where it is stated it only takes “six or seven” questions to make a determination.

Blade Runner (1982).

The Voight-Kampff test is used primarily by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements. A key aspect of replicant psychology is that they are lacking in empathy, in effect making them textbook sociopaths. Because of that, measuring the degree of empathic response via a Voight-Kampff machine is the most used method of detecting replicants. NEXUS 6 replicants also have an in-built fail-safe mechanism, namely a four year lifespan, to prevent them from developing empathic cognition and therefore immunity to a Voight-Kampff machine. This is especially necessary for Mental-A models whose intellectual capacity at least matches their designers.

The Voight-Kampff machine is perhaps analogous to (and may have been partly inspired by) Alan Turing’s work which propounded an artificial intelligence test – to see if a computer could convince a human (by answering set questions, etc.) that it was another human. The term Turing test was popularised by science fiction but was not used until years after Turing’s death.