Black Mirror - how real is the tech

Black Mirror - how real is the tech

Black Mirror is a British television series, originally aired by Channel 4 in 2011 and purchased by Netflix in in 2015. The creator, Charlie Brooker, looks at how technology is advancing and, in standalone episodes, creates stories about the unanticipated consequences. The show is critically acclaimed and has won many awards, and has got many people asking if the often dark and dire storylines are a possibility. Here is a comparison between some of the ideas and our own reality of technology.

Season 3 Episode 1 Nosedive - In this episode, the characters possess a handheld device, not so different from a smartphone device, which closely monitors a person’s popularity based on online activity. Every social interaction is rated and contributes to a user’s overall rating as a human, and those with higher ratings have benefits such as exclusive invitations, better car rental service, and higher chances of promotion. The episode follows one character, Lacie, who makes some brave and risky decisions that ultimately lead to her demise as her rating plummets.

While this is not the strict society that we live in, there are certainly comparable elements. We do control a lot of our life from the smartphone in our hands, and TripAdvisor ratings, the Facebook like and reaction system and double tapping on an Instagram photo can all contribute to a person or company’s merit and ultimately elate them through the higher stages of society. That said the value of Facebook recently took a hit as it was unearthed that people are posting less and less personal information on their profiles which could have been potentially sold to targeted advertising, so perhaps we are starting to move away from this trend a little. One interesting story that came up was with Alipay; the main form of mobile payment in China, which gave users a rating based on their credit activity, where users with a high rating would receive discounts and benefits, and users with a low rating would often have to pay extra deposits to rent gear, or even get downgraded in travel or in a few cases, banned from certain airlines.

Season 1 Episode 3 - The Entire History of You - In this episode, the characters are equipped with a device called grain which records everything the user is seeing and can be replayed on a screen. The device is used quite cleverly at airport security so that security personnel can determine what the character did in the last 24 hours to understand if they were a threat to the flight. The episode follows Liam, who begins to suspect that his wife might be cheating on him, and how he uses the technology to unearth the truth.

When you compare our access to digital recording equipment to how it has been in the past, the sheer development of camera equipped smartphones allow us to take photographs and films of anything and everything and immediately access it to the internet, which means that more of our lives are being digitally remembered and stored. This was obviously a lot more difficult before digital technology as film developing was expensive. Snap Inc are potentially developing sunglasses that can snap photographs and upload them to the internet. While it may not be built into our bodies as it is in the episode, perhaps we are unconsciously contributing to a similar reality. Even attaching a GoPro to your head is comparable. The technology is all available in different formats, so it could just be a matter of time.

Season 3 Episode 4 San Junipero - This award winning episode is a favourite amongst viewers, perhaps due to it’s more positive vibes than most of the other episodes. This shows a reality where dying people can upload their brains into a system to eternally live out their fantasies, and follows the story of two lovers deciding whether to commit to the system or not.

Futurist and professor Robin Hanson predicts that we will be able to digitally capture and to upload brains to a digital system within the next 100 years, though also notes that the episode only focusses on the prospect of retirement and not all the other possible implications of the ability to do this. He claims that the best brains will be cloned and will take many jobs from physical people, as well as creating their own digital civilisation. AI technology is developing fast, and this is just one direction that it might take in the future.