What four seasons of Black Mirror got right about the world we're living in now
Season 5 of the techno-dystopian show lands next week on Netflix
When journalist Alyssa Bereznak walks the rows of technology trade shows, she says it can feel a lot like an episode of Black Mirror — the dystopian anthology series that envisions the downside of a hyper-connected world.
In recent years at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Bereznak has seen first-hand how advanced flying drones have become.
"Combining the camera recognition technologies that are out there now with a very small drone — you can train a drone to identify images and attack them," she said.
Indeed, that very idea is the basis of Metalhead, a season four episode of Black Mirror where (spoiler alert) a robotic dog is assigned to guard — at any cost — an Amazon warehouse.
The inspiration for the episode comes from robots built by Boston Dynamics. The Softbank-owned company produces viral videos that might be familiar to social media users.
"It was just very disturbing to see the similarities between all of the Boston Dynamics viral videos that I've watched — considering Boston Dynamics has been funded by the military — and then this weaponized dog in a Black Mirror episode," she explained.
"It doesn't seem like we're too far off from that reality at all."
Season five of the Netflix series premieres Wednesday. Here are a few of the ways Black Mirror reflected the 21st century technological reality in past seasons, according to Bereznak.
As more people use sharing economy services like Uber and Airbnb, there's a greater understanding that, after a trip, users give their driver or host a five-star rating — and vice versa.
But what happens if our star rating — and thus social standing — drops? That's the premise of Black Mirror's season three episode, Nosedive, where even your barista rates you.
"In a series of events where [the main character] is travelling to a wedding, her score nosedives — hence the title — and she has found her entire social standing completely ruined," Bereznak recalled. "It's pretty tragic."
I would say that it's a healthy dose of scepticism in an environment where so many tech CEOs are on stage saying, 'We're going to change the world for good.'- Alyssa Bereznak, the Ringer
The Chinese government is currently using a "social credit" system for citizens. Based on someone's ability to pay bills, for example, the system determines what you are and aren't eligible for.
"You can rent a luxury apartment if you have a high score. You can book first class flights, just like in Nosedive," Bereznak said. "If you have a low score, you're basically on a literal blacklist where it's almost impossible to function in these sort of upper tier areas of society."
Caring too much
With gadgets that can track everything from our sleep to our heart rate, health has become a big player in Silicon Valley.
One CES invention tracked babies' breathing, Bereznak told Day 6 — a device she says has shades of Arkangel, a fictional health and location tracking technology demonstrated in a season four episode of the same name.
Arkangel is an implant parents use to keep track of their kids. In the episode, a mother played by Rosemarie Dewitt, uses it to track her daughter from the time she's an infant into her teens.
"She ruins their relationship because of it ... it smothers her essentially," Bereznak explained. "If you start there [with infants] and you're just looking out for their well-being, it can snowball really quickly."
While Black Mirror's horrifying future may seem distant — or even impossible — Bereznak believes a critical view of the technology many willingly accept is crucial.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter — which have come under fire for influencing election outcomes through their services — particularly deserve scrutiny, she adds.
"I would say that it's a healthy dose of scepticism in an environment where so many tech CEOs are on stage saying, 'We're going to change the world for good,'" Bereznak told Bambury.
"It's always great to have a voice out there that disagrees a little bit."
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