Two weeks ago my roommate told me to watch a show called Black Mirror. Black Mirror is an anthology series about the unanticipated consequences of new technology that is developed sometime in the future. Every episode includes a different cast, a different setting, and a different reality. I have watched three episodes now, and they have been terrifying. Each episode in the series looks at the way we use technology now and the direction that we may be headed in if we are not careful. Some of the episodes are about technology that may be developed far in the future, and others are about things that could happen with the technology that we are developing and using today. Each episode has such an intensely negative outlook that appears to be very close to reality. I decided to look into three episodes that have the highest chance of coming true, and one episode that already has.
“The Entire History of You”
This episode is about a scenario where everyone has a small device placed behind their ear. This device records every single moment of a person’s life. People are able to re watch the recordings, and the recordings can be placed up on a screen for other people to watch. If this device was offered today, without having seen the episode, I would probably say it would be fantastic. Imagine being able to playback the night to find a lost phone, or being able to re watch the best moments from a weekend or a trip. Or being able to playback conversations to remember people’s names. There are endless useful possibilities for this technology, but its also important to consider the negative side of the technology.
In the episode people replay important life moments and live in the past. During arguments, past conversations are projected on the television. When people go to airports they upload their recent history before going through security. There is no longer any way to lie about past actions or experiences because everything is backed up with proof. All of your worst moments are recorded and there is no escaping them. If you delete your past you are assumed to have a lot to hide. As Snap, Inc. develops Spectacles (sunglasses with a camera that can record up to 10 seconds of video) we are moving closer to this reality. Business Insider posted that “the only leap the episode makes is saying the technology will get cheaper, better, and more widespread.”
“Be Right Back”
This episode is about a machine learning service that takes all of the content that a person generates in their lifetime to create a something that can imitate their personality. There are online chat bots, voice imitation phone calls and even robots that look very similar to actual people.
The episode does a good job of pointing out the dangers of this technology. It shows that the target market for this product would be people who have recently lost a loved one. “Bringing back” a loved one to interact with, knowing that they are not actually present and the things they are saying are the result of a decision a programmer made is very bizarre. The argument the episode makes is that once the service is used, an emotional connection is established and it feels real. It makes people want to bring back more of the same connection that they miss. Chat bots using artificial intelligence and personality detection services like Crystal already exist today. In the future, it is possible people will want to recreate personalities.
This episode is a satire on the ways that we use social media, and on the direction that social media is headed in. In this world everyone judges interactions with each other and posts made by each other based on a 1-5 scale, very similar to the Uber rating system. People wear a contact lens that reveals each person’s score when you are interacting with them. People with higher scores are treated better and get more perks, those with lower scores are judged accordingly.
The irony in this is that the people with the highest scores also go through life walking on egg shells, never doing anything that might lower their score. They also constantly look for opportunities to do things or post things that will raise their score. This will hopefully never happen, but the episode is saying that we are headed in this direction with the way that we use social media currently. Right now everything you text, email, or post online stays with you. Having every interaction offline also graded and scrutinized would result in a calculated and miserable world.
“The Waldo Moment”
This episode was released in 2013, and it received a lot of criticism for being unrealistic. It was about a truth telling, anti political cartoon character running for president. It is now credited for predicting the current state of election and the attitude that lead to the Brexit vote.