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Are there any reasons that Tyrell/Wallace would make replicants indistinguishable from humans? I can understand that they want to imitate the human form, but it seems extremely impractical to make replicants impossible to identify without extensive testing.

Blade Runners are special police units that are used to track down and retire rogue replicants, some of which hide among the public. Their jobs would probably be much easier if they were looking for replicants with bright blue skin or purple irises that would be obvious to the people around them. We know that the technology exists to alter fabricated life forms from their original, so why not utilise that for the purpose of differentiating replicants from humans? I think the movies would lose some thematic strength if the replicants were distinguishable from humans and incapable of hiding in plain sight like us, but I can't remember any in-universe reasons for this.

This seems to make even less sense in 2049, as rogue replicants have already caused serious problems and still need to be tracked down. While Wallace's replicants are supposedly incapable of disobeying when they're at baseline, we know that it's possible for the replicants to escape and it would seem that the authorities are aware too by the need for baseline testing. The people that K encounters make it abundantly clear that everyone knows he's a "skinjob" anyways, so why not make it impossible for people to not recognize replicants?

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    I'll maybe have time later for a full answer to this - but it probably relates to the 'uncanny valley' effect. Robot servants should probably look like people or nothing like people - not somewhere in between. There are also advantages to them being exactly like people - they can share tools of a job, vehicles, clothes etc with people - not have to have custom designed things to interact with. Then finally the mention of 'pleasure models' implies a market they are trying to hit that would require them to be like people. – iandotkelly Nov 2 '17 at 13:39
  • I agree that nobody would be thrilled to be around replicants if they looked too creepy, but I think there might be ways to unmistakably change their appearance without really dipping into the uncanny valley. For example, somebody with coloured contacts or body paint is still recognizably human and isn't uncomfortable to look at despite having abnormal colours for humans. For replicants like the "pleasure models" customers might want it to be as close as possible (celeb lookalikes?), but it doesn't seem to make sense for combat replicants or those with more freedom like K. – Broneironaut Nov 2 '17 at 14:29
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    I think part of it is Tyrell's god complex. He treats replicants as an evolution of humanity, and thus wants them to replicate humanity as much as possible. It's why he's so obsessed with finding Deckard and his child, since it's the only known case of a replicant reproducing like a human. If it were obvious that a replicant was distinct from a human then they would not be an evolution of humanity but another species entirely. – ViggyNash Nov 2 '17 at 15:25
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    Wasn't one of their marketing/selling slogans (or maybe even their company motto) "more human than human?" – PoloHoleSet Nov 2 '17 at 15:50
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As pointed out in the comments. The human aesthetic was mandatory to Tyrell's vision of "More human than human" and his God/Creator complex. Creating anything else wouldn't be human enough.

Depending if you follow easter eggs and if you believe that Weyland-Yutani and Tyrell are in the same cinematic Universe and not just referenced for kicks within each others specific films, Then it's clearly written in the Prometheus blu-ray easter egg:

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