November 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Automatic‘s security droids and Cyberzone‘s pleasure droidettes may be the illegitimate offspring of Johnny Mnemonic, but the compu-brained courier’s most illustrious ancestor would have to be Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors). An injured astronaut reconstituted with superhuman mechanical legs, a similarly bionic arm, and telescopic sight and hearing, Austin, hero of the 1970s TV show The Six Million Dollar Man — and his consort, Jamie Sommers, the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) — were the ultimate machine folk of their day. But technology has come a long way since then. Talk about evolution of the species: How much hardware would $6 million buy today?

Not enough, says Steven E. de Souza, who got his start in Hollywood as a story editor for the series and has since written screenplays for Die Hard 2, Judge Dredd, and Street Fighter (which he also directed). ”I mean, how can you be impressed by a superhero who costs one third of what Jim Carrey gets paid to be in a movie?” says de Souza. ”I think he’s got to cost more than Waterworld to really make you feel confident.”

So how could the prototype android be updated for 21st-century crime fighting? ”You could probably give him Rollerblades built into his feet,” de Souza says. ”That would probably get him around a lot faster than that slow-motion running.” Plus, says de Souza, he’d definitely have a built-in cellular phone connection to the Internet. No longer would Steve Austin have to tote evidence back to the lab at headquarters. ”He could zoom in on fingerprints and immediately tell you, ‘No, they’re not O.J.’s.”’

Unfortunately, traveling with his bionic parts could be a big problem. ”You’d have 20 security guards coming over and running those [handheld] things up and down his legs,” de Souza says. ”He’d be the 100-billion-dollar man because he could never take a commercial flight. He’d have to have his own private jet.”

And nowadays, Austin’s most crippling enemy could be bionic-strength lawsuits related to his environmental impact, de Souza says. ”I mean, God knows what kind of emissions this guy put out. He was nuclear, you know…. You’d spend the 6 million dollars on lawyers, and that’s as far as you’d get today.”

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