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Four Black Mirror episodes that could predict our real dystopian future
Future technology is the reason this website exists – it surprises, excites and inspires us on a daily basis. However, that isn’t to say that every forward step is a positive one.
Since 2011, Charlie Brooker’s TV drama Black Mirror has been telling stories of a dystopian future, as if to remind humanity of the need for caution as it hurtles blindly into the unknown. The future can be thrilling to explore, but – as the show demonstrates – it can be frightening too, even nightmarish.
Between the security of connected devices, drones, 3D-printed weapons and our reliance on smart technology, it’s fair to say that the tech industry is facing some very real challenges. There’s been more than one occasion when we’ve commented on how something in real life ‘feels like an episode of Black Mirror,’ and this trend only looks set to continue.
Having just signed with Netflix for a 12-episode deal, the show is likely to return to our screens sometime next year. But, in the meantime, let’s look at a few past episodes in which the narrative has veered worryingly close to reality.
Black Mirror episode 1 – ‘The National Anthem’
In a dramatic first Black Mirror episode, a British princess is taken hostage and the government is held to ransom over her release. Their only demand? The prime minister must have sex with a pig and livestream the act to the general public.
So, let’s deal with the pig in the room. Despite first airing back in December 2011, ‘The National Anthem’ has been referenced a lot recently in light of recent allegations – if you somehow don’t know what we’re talking about, we’ll leave you to your own research. But this episode isn’t really about the act itself, but rather the hysteria it created and how it was handled.
The technology that created that reaction already exists – it’s Twitter, Facebook and the social media that we use everyday. Through these platforms, news stories are quickly turned into trending topics, those trending topics spawn a cycle of thinkpieces, and – before long – the internet is transformed into a runaway train of opinion that’s near impossible to slow down.
It doesn’t take much to create this effect – as we’ve seen, even a blue and black dress can get the whole world talking (or was it white and gold?). But add a story that’s actually juicy into this climate of online hysteria and this should-be absurd episode begins to look a lot more more possible. At least, it’s certainly not impossible, and maybe that’s enough.
Black Mirror episode 3 – ‘The Entire History of You’
This episode seems to be more firmly set in the future, hinged on a device that allows characters to record and playback memories like instant replays. Initially, this seems like a great piece of tech, but would you want to live with a constant reminder of your saddest or most embarrassing moments? By the episode’s end, few people would sign up for access to their own personal memory bank.
Still, as we reported earlier this year, Google is working on exactly this concept. The company filed a patent this year for the design of apparatus “enabling a searchable history of real-world user experiences,” believed to be connected to its ongoing development of Google Glass and smart contact lens technology. Either it’s been working on this for a while, or somebody at Google watches Black Mirror.
Even without that technology in place, though, the idea of regurgitating memories in this Black Mirror episode fulfills the same wants and needs as apps like Timehop. Facebook, too, has been involved in a controversy recently around its new nostalgia features, which have begun serving up painful reminders of tragic events. The more we live our lives online, the more likely it is that this kind of thing will happen.
Black Mirror episode 4 – ‘Be Right Back’
Like ‘The Entire History of You’, this is another Black Mirror episode which probably seemed like a concept for the far future as it was being made, but has since become much more real.
In ‘Be Right Back’, Hayley Attwell plays a widow who orders a digital replacement for her dead boyfriend built from AI and data taken from his digital footprint. As you’d expect, this gets dark pretty quickly, but – unbelievably – this kind of thing is very close to existing in real life. As noted by Motherboard, there are in fact entire movements and religions dedicated to making it happen, and a company called Intellitar even attempted to launch a digital clones service. According to Intellitar’s CEO Don Davidson, the company had 10,000 sign-ups before eventually shutting down due to an intellectual property dispute.
Other companies have since picked up the mantle (including eternime, among others), and, while obvious ethical concerns remain, the idea doesn’t look like disappearing anytime soon.
Black Mirror episode 6 – ‘The Waldo Moment’
After some especially dark Black Mirror episodes, this one feels almost like light relief, featuring as it does a cartoon bear named Waldo which stands in a political by-election. As you’d expect form the series, ‘The Waldo Moment’ eventually touches on some more serious themes, but could this kind of thing actually happen?
From a technological perspective, yes. Waldo is basically just live motion capture, and combined with animation or existing hologram technology, there’s technically nothing to stop a cartoon bear running for president. Sure, current legislation and the American public probably wouldn’t allow that to happen – at least you’d hope so – but if somebody decides to use a digital mascot as part of their campaign, then technology wouldn’t get in their way.
The bigger question here, then, is would the public buy it? It’s hard to say, but political climates frequently change and this kind of thing isn’t without precedent. In Brazil, for instance, popular congressman Francisco Silva won an election as his alter-ego Tiririca the clown, rallying against the country’s political system much like a certain Waldo the bear.
Stranger things have happened, then, and going by Black Mirror’s current hit rate, we’re almost frightened to see what the next series has in store.