January 10, 2018
As far as futuristic, techno-paranoid thrillers go, Black Mirror takes the artificially intelligent cake. From the horrific depictions of technology gone wrong to the psychopathic monsters using it for their own personal gain, the incredibly popular Netflix series has brought every technophobes worst nightmares to life. Fortunately, anyone truly afraid of being irreversibly trapped in a virtual assistant or perpetually surveilled by their significant other can rest easy knowing that this show is nothing more than a brilliant work of science fiction. At least, that's what you think.
***Caution: This article contains spoilers for the fourth season of Black Mirror***
While Black Mirror exists in a futuristic time that none of us have any interest in visiting, it's important to remember that the technology featured in the show is decidedly inspired by existing gadgets on the market today. This may be a bit shocking to viewers that have had tech-fueled fever dreams for the last two weeks, but unfortunately, it's quite true. And if Season 4 of Black Mirror hasn't ruined virtual reality gaming, child trackers, memory-boosting tech, dating apps, killer robots, and interactive museums, you're much braver than I am.
Take a look at some of the terrifying real technology that has been completely ruined by Season 4 of Black Mirror below:
USS Callister – Virtual Reality Gaming
The first episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror reminded us just how screwed up the show can really be. The episode follows Robert Daly, the chief technology officer and cofounder of Callister, a virtual reality gaming company on the verge of an upgrade that would dramatically improve the platform for all users. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Daly has blocked off a section of the platform for his own enjoyment, trapping conscious digital replicas of Callister employees in a virtual reality simulation of his favorite television show, aboard the USS Callister, of which he has complete control over. As the episode goes on, Daly's sadistic fantasy proves to be nothing more than a madman's attempt to humiliate the employees that refuse to value him at the company he built, until they can successful escape, trapping him in his own mind.
Sounds pretty terrifying, right? Fortunately, virtual reality technology isn't nearly advanced enough to trap any conscious beings within its digital walls. After all, most iterations of virtual reality gaming involve strapping a smartphone to the front of your face, which, while a bit claustrophobic, hardly constitutes a digital prison. However, always-evolving VR technology proves that the future of virtual reality could be just as unsettling as life on the USS Callister.
One real life example to take into consideration is the Teslasuit, a full-body suit with haptic feedback that puts you fully and completely in the gaming experience. Through neuromuscular electrical stimulation, the Teslasuit can replicate physical sensation in the body, leading to a whole catalog of terrifying experiences that could be had in virtual reality.
Arkangel – Digital Child Monitoring
While USS Callister toyed with the entertainment elements of technology, the second episode focused on a necessity-driven technology instead: child trackers. After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, single mother Marie goes through a few unnerving situations that any new parent is familiar with — losing them at a park, walking passed scary dogs, and generally being worried about every little thing. In response, she decides to test out a new product: Arkangel. This brain implant allows the parent to not only track the child via GPS, but also monitor their vitals, block visual stimulation, and even tap into their optic nerve to see what they're seeing. This has obvious consequences as her daughter grows up, leading to Marie giving her daughter emergency contraceptives without her knowledge to terminate a pregnancy that she didn't know about.
Yes, this level of intrusion is shocking to say the least, but it's nothing a helicopter parent or two hasn't considered at one point or another. In recent years, spying on your kids has gone from an unsettling Twilight Zone episode to a burgeoning new trend, particularly with 61 percent of parents monitoring what websites their children visit, 48 percent looking through their children's devices, and 16 percent tracking their children through their smartphones.
Thankfully, implanted child trackers are nowhere to be found on the market today. Unfortunately, there is an avalanche of digital child monitor services in every corner of the internet, one of which is uKnowKids. This service does a lot more than just track your children. It monitors their texts, their phone calls, their social media accounts, and which mobile apps they download. The service even claims to be able to search out your child's “hidden & secret” accounts on social media, so you know that you're child is constantly under your surveillance. You know, the right way to raise your kids…
Crocodile – Memory-Boosting Tech
Well, we've covered entertaining and necessity-driven technology, I think it's time to get a little crime into the mix, don't you? The third episode follows two storylines: one of an insurance investigator, Shazia, trying to find out exactly what happened to a gentleman struck by a self-delivering pizza truck; the other of a successful business woman, Mia, who covered up a fatal hit-and-run accident fifteen years earlier and eventually murders her partner-in-crime when he decides to come forward.
After ironically witnessing a road accident the night she murdered him, Mia is contacted by Shazia in regards to the case. Shazia uses a memory-boosting device on Mia to actually see on a monitor what happened that night. Unfortunately, the technology is far from perfect, and Mia's crimes are broadcast as plain as day for Shazia to see. This leads Mia to eventually murder Shazia, her husband, and her child to cover it up. She does so unsuccessfully, as the family's hamster saw the whole thing, and the technology is used to arrest her.
As you can tell, the people of the Black Mirror universe really have a thing for plugging technology directly into your brain. Unfortunately, so do the people of the real world, as researchers from the University of Southern California recently presented findings for a “memory prosthesis” at the Society for Neuroscience in Washington DC. They claim that the device, which attaches electrodes to parts of the brain, can improve memory test scores by up to 30 percent. They even believe it could potentially improve vision and movement in users, which sounds pretty great, as long as you forget about the whole “brain implant” part.
Also, self-delivering pizza trucks are totally a thing already.
Hang the DJ – Dating Apps
The fact that Black Mirror took four seasons to satirize dating apps is a testament to how much technology is really out there. In the fourth episode of this season, a classic meet-cute scenario presents itself with a first date between Amy and Frank that ends after only a few hours. However, their budding courtship, along with every other relationship in the “system,” are dictated by a handheld disc with a small screen that picks a match and an amount of time for each. After enduring an onslaught of terrible relationships and one-night stands, they fall for each other and eventually realize that they're in some kind of simulation. As the episode concludes, it's revealed that they are actual one of a thousand simulations in a dating app that guarantees high success rates.
This episode, for those unfamiliar with Black Mirror, is easily the cheeriest episode to date. While the looming “system” presents a perpetually unknown “threat” to Amy and Frank, nothing outside of typical relationship tragedy occurs to our star-crossed lovers. And with an ending resulting in a perfect couple and no murder, torture, or kidnapping in sight, Hang the DJ proved to be a delightful romp through a familiar, albeit terribly creepy, technology. And that's kind of the problem.
We've become so numb to creepy dating apps that something like the “system” seems like more of a good idea than an egregious infringement on the freedom to engage in the best thing about human beings: love. However, that hasn't stopped entrepreneurs from making boat loads of cash on dating apps like Match, Tinder, and even Zoosk. While those apps are fairly tame (yes, even Tinder at this point), services like On the Rebound, which takes Facebook data of relationship statuses to find some to date “on the rebound,” remind us just how terrible being single really is.
Metalhead – Killer Robots
While Black Mirror has gotten incredibly creative with the technophobic nightmares, it's important to remember the original scare tactic when it comes to evolving technology: robots taking over the world. Fortunately, the fifth episode did not disappoint, imagining a world nearly devoid of human life save for a few outmatched survivors. The episode follows Bella, a badass, post-apocalyptic survivor trying to avoid the killer robot on her tail. After being blasted with tracking devices, trapped in a tree, and nearly knifed to death, Bella is able to put down the terrifyingly dog-like robot with two shotgun blasts to the “head.” Tragically, the bloodthirsty beagle releases another blast of tracking devices, that embed themselves in Bella's neck, leading her to end her own life for fear of the army of killer robot dogs likely on the way.
Honestly, it wouldn't be Black Mirror if they didn't eventually slide in a post-apocalyptic episode at some point. After all, with the likes of Elon Musk constantly warning us about the artificially intelligent demise of humanity, the threat of killer robots should be taken a lot more seriously than it is. Fortunately, no one out there is making a robotic dog that can move exactly like the one in this episode in almost every way… just kidding! It's real!
Fortunately, SpotMini is not equipped with landmine-style tracking devices, shotgun arms, or the ability to hold a knife (unlike the robot dogs in this episode). However, Boston Dynamics prides themselves on developing a four-legged robot that can “handles objects, climbs stairs, and will operate in offices, homes and outdoors.” Oh good, there's no escape!
Black Museum – Interactive Museums
If you've a big Black Mirror fan, you know that every other season finale features two mini stories, framed in a third story that ties them all together. To accomplish this, the final episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror featured the Black Museum, a museum filled with all the horrifying technology from past episodes, as well as a few new ones. The museums proprietor, Rolo Haynes, shows the exhibits to Nish, his only visitor, as they wait for the main show to be ready.
Once Haynes has recounted a few tales from his days as a neurological research recruiter, he shows Nish the main exhibit: a hologram consciousness of a death row inmate from years earlier, which museum attendees could electrocute on the electric chair that he died on. After it is revealed that Nish is the death row inmate's daughter, she poisons Haynes, releases her father's consciousness, and traps Haynes in his own creation.
Fortunately, there is absolutely no technology in existence or in production that is designed to trap the human consciousness is a holographic state. However, interactive museums have become an incredibly popular way to engage kids and adults in learning. Through augmented reality, places like the Kennedy Space Center in Florida have been able to bring their exhibits to life in a way that is a little bit less creepy than the hi-tech abominations found in the Black Museum.
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