Dystopian fiction or a mirror to reality? These technologies are too close to the morbid world of Black Mirror.
Those of our readers who love tech and sci-fi must be familiar with the show Black Mirror. For those who aren’t, it is a show that quite literally holds up a “mirror” to society, discussing the intersections of technology and personal lives and the horrifying results of that.
Most of us, including myself, don’t see technology as anything inherently bad. We would in fact roll our eyes at the older generations telling us that our phones are the root cause of all life problems. Surely, Black Mirror is all fiction, right? Well, as disconcerting as it may be, some of the realities the show illustrates actually exist or will soon come true. Here are some technologies from Black Mirror that are or might soon become a part of our everyday lives.
Virtual reality (VR) is featured a lot in Black Mirror, such as in the episode “USS Callister” in season four and “Striking Vipers” in season five. The former is about a tyrannical boss who has created VR clones of this real-life team at work and berates them to ease his frustrations of being treated poorly by his real-life co-workers. The latter is about two friends who have an affair with each other inside a VR game.
Both episodes feature VR video games, which is a concept that was created in 1956. Since then, VR technology has made a lot of progress, with companies, like Meta and Accenture, even building their own metaverses. While the growth of VR tech might seem like a positive development, the power tripping displayed in the episode “USS Callister” is actually happening inside the metaverse. Last year, a female beta tester complained about being virtually groped inside Meta’s VR platform, Horizon Worlds.
Creating fake versions of a person
Another dystopian possibility the series explores is identity theft or virtual cloning, which is the central theme of the episode “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” from the fifth season of Black Mirror. When the pop star protagonist Ashley O decides that she wants to switch gears and become a rock musician, her manager puts her in a coma. While she is in a coma, her manager uses vocal mimicry software to imitate her singing voice. Later, a visual simulation of Ashley O is also created to perform on stage. While this may seem far-fetched, it is very similar to deepfake technology that has existed since 2017.
Deepfakes are so effective that in 2019, the CEO of a UK-based energy firm was scammed out of EUR220,000 (US$243,000) after getting an AI-generated call imitating the CEO of the firm’s Germany-based parent company.
Unlike Ashley O’s clone, if you pay enough attention, you can actually recognize a deepfake. People in video deepfakes often don’t blink normally, which could be a telltale sign that the video isn’t authentic. Moreover, technology to counter deepfakes is also in the works. The University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley have collaborated on a machine-learning detection mechanism that can check the authenticity of videos through soft biometrics, like facial quirks.
In the episode “The Entire History of You” from Black Mirror’s first season, we experience a reality where people have chips behind their ears that record everything they do. It also allows them to re-do certain experiences by playing back their memories through their eyes or on a monitor.
What you might be surprised to know is that there are not one but three technologies that come surprisingly close to the chips in this episode. The most non-intrusive of these is Snap’s spectacles. In 2016, Snap Inc. (formerly known as Snapchat) released spectacles that had a camera in the corner of the frame to snap videos and photos of what the wearer was looking at. The only issue with them is that they can only capture a 10-second video at a time.
Samsung, on the other hand, has patented contact lenses that project images into the user’s eyes. The lenses would also have a camera and sensors controlled by blinking, so users would be able to capture memories with literally the blink of an eye. This would create serious privacy issues with people getting photographed without their permission and in compromising positions.
The closest technology to the one portrayed in the episode is the chip currently being worked on by Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. The chip will be implanted into the user’s brain and would allow people with physical disabilities to control their devices through their brain. This will allow them to send texts, voice messages and even express their creativity through art and photography. Musk has also claimed that the chips would make it possible to create backups of memories that could potentially be downloaded into a new body.
We have already gone over the issues of harassment in VR, deepfake scams and the privacy issues with the in-eye photography technologies. So, if you were naive like me and thought that none of the horrifying events in Black Mirror could actually happen, the existence of these technologies would have proven otherwise. Yet, this is not to say that you should be afraid of modern devices. If anything, Black Mirror has taught us to be cautious in how we engage with technology, to question the negative aspects of innovation and to make educated choices on which tech gadgets we choose to incorporate into our lives. After all, technology itself is innocent, but it is us humans who decide how technology is used.
- Cheating on Your Partner in the Metaverse
- Risks Posed by Deepfake Technology and How to Combat Them
- Harassment on the Metaverse
Header image courtesy of Netflix’s official website