On June 26, 1982, a small asteroid crashed into the South Pacific/Indian Ocean area. The asteroid was just big enough to do massive damage but not big enough enough to be a planet killer. It caused massive death and destruction to the Asian subcontinent and disrupted the weather patterns on a global scale for several years. These weather disruptions had a devastating effect on many animals worldwide. There was a massive wave of refugees of all kinds away from the devastated areas. Many ended up on the west coast of North America. Other parts of Asia became 'super-concentrated' with people--due to all the refugees moving about.
The climatic and population crisis caused millions of people around the world to view space exploration as a way to escape from the troubles on Earth to the new "frontier". A global initiative jointly led by the United States and the Soviet Union was formed to create new space exploration technologies. Extraordinary new astronautical technologies were invented that would have never been made if not for the global space initiative. Simultaneously the new technological innovations in that field led to innovations in other fields of science and industry. The most amazing innovation was the Esper supercomputer in 1987. The result of a joint effort of computer scientists and engineers from more than a hundred nations, Esper was the world's first self-aware computer. It's superior intelligence enabled it to conceive of and design scientific concepts that it would have taken humanity more than a century to develop without Esper. Because of Esper, numerous scientific breakthroughs were made in the next few years. Ironically, the catastrophic asteroid disaster of 1982 led to events that propelled humanity to enormous technological leaps.
In 1991, with Esper's help, scientists invented the technology for creating a virtual mass field that makes artificial gravity possible. Just a year later, perhaps the most grandiose and important invention in the history of mankind was created. Scientists with the global space initiative sent a probe from Earth to Jupiter in less than two minutes using hyperdrive. Invented with the aid of several Esper-model self-aware supercomputers, hyperdrive works by creating an intense virtual mass field that expands towards supercritical levels, and causes a quantum transition of everything within the field to a tachyonic state. While in this state matter can only travel faster than light. This state is often called "hyperspace", although it isn't actually distinct from normal space. Speed is controlled by altering the strength of the virtual mass field - shedding mass will speed the ship, while increasing mass will slow it. The downside to the hyperdrive is that while in hyperspace, a ship has great difficulty safely interacting with the sublight universe.
A few years later, two new technological breakthroughs were made--both as a result of the side-effects of the influx of manpower and money from displaced refugees and sudden the sudden advancements in space travel. The first was that in 1995, extraction techniques for oxygen and energy from lunar rock cheaply and efficiently were perfected. The second was that innovations in the sciences of synthetic biology and molecular engineering led to the creation of the first "animoids" in 1996. While outwardly indistinguishable from 'real' animals, these creatures were vat-grown from manufactured synthetic DNA.
By 1997, the climate remained disrupted. Huge numbers of refugees moving about and clustering in huge groups in a limited number of areas were having a major effect on the local ecosystems--and the smoke/dust/debris from the asteroid impact was still causing damages on a global scale. The first lunar colony was successfully set up. Soon--there was a second and a third and fourth.
In 1998, most of the major countries--either unilaterally or in cooperation with other countries--began 'encouraging' their residents to move off-world to all the colonies that were springing up. Most of the colonies were small (mining colonies and so forth) but techniques were slowly improving and places were being scouted out quite quickly. While that was going on, advancements in synthetic biology designs were improving by leaps and bounds.
The first synthetically manufactured "humans" were created in 1999. These organic automatons came to be called "replicants." A U.S. mining consortium decided to use the replicants for slave labor in some of its more dangerous mining colonies--with phenomenal success. The story soon leaked out. There was a great deal of confusion over whether or not the mining company was indeed breaking laws against "slave labor" – because there was a great deal of confusion over whether or not replicants can legally be considered "real" humans. Replicants are fully organic, but still purely synthetic beings. Although their DNA is designed to be a close enough structural analogue of human DNA to where it is nearly indistinguishable, it doesn't come from any human or any biological source whatsoever--it is entirely constructed. The mining company's lawyers argued that that fact means that although replicants are outwardly indistinguishable from humans, they are indeed not real humans--therefore, the company wasn't breaking any anti-slavery laws because those laws only applied to human beings. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and the mining company won the case. The courts in various other countries also concluded that replicants are not human and therefore accorded them no rights nor protection. Replicants are legally regarded as nothing more than biological androids.
In 2000, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (an extremely bright researcher with phenomenal business skills who was part of the original research team) left the mining company (with a few of his assistants) and started up his very own replicant production company, dedicated to researching and developing new and improved replicants. People and organizations started using replicants as everything from laborers to domestic servants to sex slaves--both on Earth and off-world.
Over the next few years, the field of replicant biomechanics opened up a whole new avenue of employment and business. The multitude of "genetic designers" typically specialized in designing the synthetic DNA used to grow a specific part of replicant anatomy (e.g. the eyes or musculature). Replicants became a prominent economic link in the chain mail of the developed world. In 2005 the Tyrell Corporation introduced the updated NEXUS-2 model replicant, a replicant with a genetically programmed personality instead of the rudimentary cognitive functions and social skills of a standard NEXUS-1 replicant. Three years later, the new NEXUS-3 model replicants received highly advanced genetic programming that included basic emotions.
Then, in January of 2011, a combat team of NEXUS-3 replicants staged a bloody mutiny against the Tannhauser Gate colony. It was put down--but quite a few humans were killed in the process. In response to "The Tannhauser Incident", the United Nations declared replicants illegal on Earth and ordered all replicants on Earth be taken off-world or destroyed within 28 days. Many replicants on Earth hid and blended in with the human population. Special police squads called "Replicant Detection Divisions" were formed. Nicknamed "Blade Runner" units, they were created to hunt down the replicants on Earth. In April of that same year, the Tyrell Corporation received permission from the UN to introduce NEXUS-4 replicants in the off-world colonies, provided some means can be devised for distinguishing them from human beings. To this end, the UN enlisted the aid of the medical community.
Dr. Johann Voight, a psychology professor, informed the UN that his "Voight Empathy Scale For Diagnosing The Maladjusted Psyche" will easily distinguish replicants from humans. The Voight Scale was tested in major cities around the world with a 75% success rate. This was enough to satisfy the UN requirement and the Tyrell Corporation was cleared to release the NEXUS-4. In a show of good faith, Dr. Tyrell even funded some of the research. As 2011 drew to a close, the NEXUS-4 models were introduced for off-world use. They can only be confirmed as replicants by psychological testing on the Voight Scale, or by post-mortem examination (autopsy). They did not have emotion programming as per UN orders following the Tannhauser Incident. Two years later, the NEXUS-5 was introduced with mission-specific programming.
In 2016, the Tyrell Corporation secretly introduced the NEXUS-6 replicant models to off-world colonies. They were so advanced, the genetic designers feared that eventually they may naturally develop their own emotions. They countered this by bio-engineering them with a four-year lifespan. By 2017, the NEXUS-5 replicants had learned to vary their answers in order to get a more positive result on the Voight Scale. The success rate dropped to just 37%. A new test was called for. In 2018, Dr. Lurie Kampff, a psychologist specializing in lying and lie detection, began to expand on the late Dr. Voight's work, incorporating his most advanced lie detection equipment. The "Voight-Kampff Altered Empathy Scale For Identifying Artificial Intelligence" was secretly tested in New York, Beijing, Paris and Tokyo with an astonishing 98% success rate, even with NEXUS-5's who can pass on the Voight Scale. In February of 2019, the new Voight-Kampff test was put into use and regulated tightly by the UN, who only issued the device to major cities. Blade Runners must receive training and certification before they can administer the VK Machine test.
Meanwhile, the Earth is in a state of irreversible decay and everyone who can is fleeing off-world. The environment has been exhausted with the weather hot and damp due to continued effects of the asteroid impact. Urbanization has reached new levels and cities such as Los Angeles have become monstrous metropolises. The Sun can barely be seen in the dirty sky, where the ever-present police cars fly by with twinkling navigation lights. The buildings are stretching 400 stories up in the sky, forming artificial canyons. On street level, besides the bizarre traffic jams the over-crowded alleys are bathing in gloomy light from neon signs and video billboards with ever-smiling geishas. This is the world of 2019.