Exploring the technology of Black Mirror Season 4
This article looks at the fourth season of Black Mirror and contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Black Mirror is back on Netflix with another six standalone episodes exploring technology of the future and as usual some of it hits a little close to home. Rather than being a full on review this article explores the technology in the episodes and looks at how close to reality it is.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 1: USS Callister
At the outset USS Callister looks like a spoof of Star Trek – think Spaceballs – which isn’t very Black Mirror at all. However it quickly transpires this is just a virtual created by Robert Daly, the downtrodden CTO of a company behind massively multiplayer online game, Infinity. As the main behind the tech he was able to hack the game and create this own little corner for himself where he plays a James T. Kirk style captain lording it over his work colleagues.
This being Black Mirror the whole thing takes a decidedly dark turn when it is revealed his crew aren’t just simulations but are in fact copies of the real people – complete with their memories – created using their DNA.
While the neural interface technology might be a little futuristic for now, virtual and augmented reality is hot property right now.
Uploading a consciousness into this reality using DNA though, that’s a little far fetched. If it were possible, you would be borderline giving people immortality.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 2: Arkangel
At its heart Arkangel is the story of paranoid parents and what steps they might go to if given the chance. After a mother briefly loses her young daughter while at a playground she signs up for Arkangel. Her daughter is injected with an implant which connects to an app on a tablet which is all kinds of creepy. As well as displaying her daughter’s vitals it also allows her to see everything she is seeing at all times. There’s even a filter that pixelates anything bad in the world, such as the scary neighbourhood dog.
While this all seems reasonable when your child is a toddler as the daughter gets older there are obvious problems.
In terms of the technology a lot of it is already available in some form. There are all sorts of wearables that can track vital signs, and parents can use their kids phones to track where they are.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 3: Crocodile
What if the police and insurance companies had access to memory recall technology. That’s the premise of this episode titled Crocodile. When investigating a crime or insurance claim it made lying impossible.
A device hooks up to the person’s brain and displays their memories on a TV monitor. It’s like your entire life has been filmed. The catch, of course, is that they see everything. Even those little bits you don’t want anyone to see.
While this technology might be useful if a little scary, it’s definitely not something on the horizon right now.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 4: Hang The DJ
Whether it’s Tinder, Match.com or any other site, online dating has become big business. But where exactly will it go in the future?
Hang The DJ is set in a dystopian community where it seems everything is about finding that perfect match. People’s lives are an endless stream of hook-ups from one night stands to spending years together. The catch is the time is determined before you even start.
You might have to spend two years with somebody you despise or 12 hours with somebody you get on really well with. It doesn’t matter. Every experience helps the AI learn and eventually sets you up with your perfect match with a 99.8% success rate. All this works because of the army of guards making sure it does.
The twist at the end of it all (spoiler!) is that the whole thing is just a simulation. A rendering of the maths that goes into picking your perfect match.
There are of course already dating companies out there that claim to be able to match you to the perfect person. As artificial intelligence gets smarter and more powerful this whole simulated world could become a thing. The reality of it is however, love is far more irrational than anything a computer can work out.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 5: Metalhead
My least favourite episode of the series. Metalhead stands out as being very different from all the other episodes. It is filmed in black and white and set in a post apocalyptic future where robot dogs are hunting down humans.
The episode never reveals why this is happening. One possibility is they were created as killing machines for war and went out of control. More sinister is that they went all Skynet and turned on their creators like the Terminators.
As well as being pretty well armoured these robo-dogs are shown to have some serious hacking skills, jumping into cars and driving them and evading a home security system.
As robotics and artificial intelligence continue to advance some feel it is only a matter of time before the creations turn on their creators. Perhaps this is a glimpse into that future.
Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 6: Black Museum
Located in middle of nowhere American is the Black Museum, a medical museum run by a slightly eccentric former doctor. Through a guided your of the museum’s exhibits the doctor tells three stories around neuro-science.
The first is about a doctor who has a neural implant that allows him to feel what others feel. It starts out well enough, allowing the doctor to diagnose patients from the pain they are feeling. He even gets to use it for pleasure too. However, pain becomes a drug to him, needing fix after fix after fix leading him to insanity.
Next up is a teddy bear. Nothing weird about a teddy bear right? Well no, apart from it has the consciousness of a woman stuck inside it. After being hit by a car she was comatose in hospital able to communicate via a red and green light. The doctor gives her and her husband an option. She could be downloaded into his brain. They would share sensation, she would be able to see what he saw, hug her son again. But he would still be in control. After spending a few years looking like a nutcase talking to himself it becomes too much. The doctor’s solution? Put her consciousness in a bear. How lovely.
The final story is about a death row criminal who’s consciousness was uploaded to the cloud at the moment of death. He now lives in the museum where he was the star attraction. Paying visitors could execute the man over and over and even get a souvenir mini screaming consciousness in a key ring. Years of this treatment has left the man a vegetable.