Black Mirror, AI and the Future of Technology
If you’re anything like us, you’ve already binged all four seasons of Black Mirror—then you immediately threw your Amazon Echo off the side of a cliff.
If you haven’t, then get ready—this techie Twilight Zone is the stuff of futuristic nightmares.
At its best, Black Mirror plays upon one of our biggest human fears: Annihilation by the hands of technology. But is our techno-paranoia founded? Is AI truly coming to get us?
Many of Black Mirror’s most disconcerting episodes project how humans interact with artificial intelligence. There are post-apocalyptic battles, haunting love stories, and even one woman trapped in a stuffed animal. AI is an incredibly complex, astounding, and quickly evolving field. It brings great change, but with that change comes fear.
So let’s tear down some of Black Mirror’s most horror-inducing episodes and see how fictional AI measures up to reality.
BE WARNED: There are spoilers ahead.
Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5)
Synopsis: Set in a post-apocalyptic world where artificial intelligence has taken over, a woman is relentlessly terrorized by a robotic creature called a “dog”.
Don’t worry! You won’t have to fight a metallic Cujo just yet. Today, the most notable stride in AI technology is in home security.
AI-powered surveillance can analyze intelligence from integrated home systems—like doorbells and cameras—to monitor for intrusions and notify police. Virtual assistants like the aforementioned Amazon Echo can turn alarms on or lock doors with a simple voice command. There’s even a startup that uses machine learning to identify if visitors are friends or foes.
On the wider spectrum, companies are even utilizing AI to deter crime.
One software program that relies on machine learning can scan entire crowds and identify aberrant behavior based on the event. This includes subtle behavior like body language or movements toward unauthorized areas in an arena. Another company supports “predictive policing” by using AI to identify where potential crimes might take place based on the locations, times, and circumstances of past crimes.
Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1)
Synopsis: After learning about a new artificial intelligence service that allows people to stay in touch with the deceased, a grieving woman reconnects with her late lover.
While we haven’t digitally recreated individuals...yet...technology is making strides on the chatbot front. Chatbots use voice commands or messaging to interface with humans and help with everything from finding an outfit to playing a podcast. They’re especially useful for customer service and their business worth continues to grow each year.
The uneasiness of this particular episode hinges on the idea that AI is human, but not quite human. Can we dispose of it without a second thought? Does an AI-powered entity deserve every right a human has? Should your AI persona really take on the attributes of your terrible internet-self?
While these questions can’t unequivocally be answered, there have been some interesting examples of granting human rights to AI.
In October, Saudi Arabia gave citizenship for the first time to an AI-powered robot, Sophia. Created by Hanson Robotics, this AI can hold a conversation, make faces, and read emotions. She even said she will destroy humans—which pretty much confirms all of our greatest I, Robot fears.
Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6)
Synopsis: A woman visits a medical museum dedicated to artificial intelligence artefacts, including a woman who shared a body with her husband and a man facing an afterlife of “pay for play” electrocution.
We’re not saying a demented doctor won’t try to recreate these horrors in the future, but currently—when combined with science and medicine—AI offers exciting opportunities for our society.
AI excels in diagnostics—it can quickly ingest and learn from large data sets in a way that humans can not.
Japanese researchers have found that AI can detect colorectal cancer in early stages with an 86% accuracy. This AI algorithm, which learned from thousands of photos, can detect the disease in less than a second. Additionally, researchers at Oxford have found success with AI diagnosing heart disease and lung cancer. And AI has even been used to identify congenital cataracts, raising the chances of preventing blindness in children.
Are you still watching?
Black Mirror is a cultural phenomenon because it prods at the deepest fears we have about technology. Will AI render us useless? Will it attack us? Will we live our afterlife in a server?
Who can truly tell what the future holds, but we can’t allow our fear to overlook the opportunities that AI offers civilization. As the CEO of Google summarized: “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than…electricity or fire.”