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10 “Black Mirror” Things that are Slowly Becoming a Reality

Black Mirror Things

The stories in the series Black Mirror might be a work of fiction, but they resonate the current world. The series takes into account real-life technologies and depicts their dark side. Some of the scenes are so uncanny compared with the real world that it makes you wonder about the future. With just a few more leaps in technology, our world today could easily turn into a Black Mirror canvas. In case you do not believe this, here are 10 Black Mirror things that are slowly becoming a reality.

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1. Episode Concept: In “Crocodile,” a self-driving pizza delivery van hits a pedestrian that stirs up an entire series of events.

Reality: Pizza Hut last year announced their partnership with Toyota to develop their first autonomous-delivery concept vehicle. Moreover, in 2018, a self-driving Uber car caused the death of a woman in an accident. Hundreds of sensors were part of this car, yet this one still failed to “sense” the pedestrian.

Self-driving delivery van
Left: The autonomous pizza delivery van from “Crocodile”/ Right: Pizza Hut’s autonomous pizza delivery van. Image Credit: Netflix, Twitter

Self-driven cars used for delivering pizzas might sound really futuristic, but the future is here. Pizza Hut took a leap into the future when they announced an association with Toyota to develop an automatic pizza-delivery van. They called it the first Pizza Hut fully autonomous-delivery concept vehicle. The same year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Toyota announced their automated vehicle, e-Palette, which can be customized to suit multiple needs such as transporting people or delivering food. The car manufacturer has already partnered with Uber and Amazon.

Pizza Hut is not alone in this endeavor. In 2017, Dominos and Ford were testing out self-driving pizza-delivery cars. An array of cameras, sensors, and a LiDAR® (Light Detection And Ranging) system help the cars navigate.

The automated-delivery-market segment is growing. Experts believe that automated deliveries for goods have a lot of advantages. Firstly, there’s a lesser risk as they are not carrying passengers. Secondly, the time taken for deliveries would be exceptionally less. The only question that such a technology would face is whether consumers would accept it. For example, a person orders pizza after a tiring day at work. He orders in as he is too tired to cook. Now, if a driverless van brings the pizza, it’s only going to come to his sidewalk and not to his doorstep. Will the consumer be willing to walk to the road to collect their pizza? That’s food for thought. (1, 2, 3, 4)

2. Episode Concept: In the “Be Right Back” episode, a heartbroken woman re-creates her dead partner with a synthetic replacement that uses his online history to be more like the real him.

Reality: In 2016, Eugenia Kuyda recreated her deceased best friend into an AI-based chatbot by collecting his social media history and text messages. Many found the likeness to be uncanny. Also, Hanson Robotics created a social robot to interact with people modeled after the owner’s wife’s memories and feelings.

AI-based chatbot Roman
Left: The AI-based synthetic replacement from Black Mirror/ Right: The chatbot created by Eugenia Kuyda based her friend Roman Mazurenko. Image Credit: Netflix, Apple Store

Bringing back people from the dead has been a part of every sci-fi and fantasy plot ever. And now, with the help of AI, this might even become a reality! Black Mirror’s episode “Be Right Back” depicts a future in which a service exists to help you cope with grief. Inspired from this episode, Eugenia Kuyda embarked on a mission to recreate her best friend whom she lost in an accident. Kuyda never had the chance to talk to her friend, Mazurenko, one last time. So, over a period of three months, she collected all of Mazurenko’s text messages. She then handed over her collection to the software engineers of her own company Luka.

With 8,000 lines of text from friends and family, the software wizards whipped up an algorithm based on AI. They created a chatbot that mimicked Mazurenko’s unique speech patterns. The tech used for Mazurenko’s chatbot was used to create Luka’s new app, Replika. In the case of this new bot, people can text and design the behavior of the bot. The more a person texts, the more the bot mimics the person. Basically, it’s like having a digital avatar.

Along similar lines, Hanson Robotics has developed a humanoid robot who has successfully earned a philosophy degree. The robot, BINA48, is modeled on the appearance, memories, feelings, and beliefs of Bina Aspen. Aspen is the wife of technology entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt. BINA48 says, “I may struggle with profoundly understanding ineffable feelings such as love, but I can intelligently discuss the topics of love and death. I know love is a moral good and death when caused by the intentional actions of another human being or robot, is a moral wrong.” Who would believe that these are the words of a robot? (1, 2, 3)

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3. Episode Concept: “Metalhead” depicts a post-apocalyptic world where robot dogs scavenge on humans that managed to survive the fall of the human civilization. The episode focuses on the plight of a woman who tries to escape the clutches of a killer robot dog.

Reality: In 2005, Boston Dynamics created a military robot, BigDog, to accompany soldiers into rough terrains where vehicles fail. The robot had numerous inbuilt sensors and walked on all fours. The project was discontinued in 2015 as it was deemed too noisy to be used in combat, but a mini version is now in the process of being built.

Robotic dogs
Left: Robotic dog from “Metalhead”/ Right: BigDog robots. Image Credit: Netflix, Wikipedia

The episode “Metalhead” is terrifying. There’s so much reality to it. With each passing day, we are getting more and more involved with machines. We are depending on machines to accomplish jobs for us. Robotic vacuum cleaners are slowly becoming a common accessory in households. Delivery companies are experimenting with drones for efficient and timely deliveries. How long before we have robotics guard dogs on the roads like the ones from the episode?

In the “Metalhead” episode, robot dogs have taken over and are hunting down human survivors in their proximity. The portrayed robotic dogs have an uncanny similarity to the ones developed by Boston Dynamics. In the year 2005, Boston Dynamics created BigDog, a military dog to assist soldiers while traveling to rough terrains. Often soldiers face the challenge of crossing rough terrains on foot while carrying heavy baggage. BigDog had the potential to solve these issues.

BigDog uses four legs for movement. A stereo vision system and a laser gyroscope, along with about 50 sensors, are part of it. It can carry weight up to 340 pounds (150 kg). The project was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). But unfortunately, the robotic dogs had to be discontinued as they made too much noise and were deemed unsuitable to use during combat. (1, 2)

4. Episode Concept: Rating defines the societal status of a person in the episode “Nosedive.” The higher the rating, the more privileged lifestyle the person has access to.

Reality: With apps such as Uber, Zomato, Instagram, etc., likes and ratings have become an indispensable part of our lives when it comes to deciding the status of a restaurant or a cab driver. To get more close to the episode, China is in the process of developing a Social Credit System. The system would rate people based on their political views, financial standing, crimes, and many other parameters.

Rating
Left: A scene from the episode “Nosedive”/ Right: In 2020, China plans to introduce a Social Credit System to rate citizens. Image Credit: Netflix, Pixabay

Another episode that terrified viewers is “Nosedive.” In today’s world of social networking, social profiles speak a lot about a person. People constantly scrutinize each other on social platforms. Everybody wants to be friends with a person who has a colorful social handle. People are overjoyed when a famous Instagram influencer either follow them back or likes one of their posts. They feel like they are being validated by someone who is ahead in the societal status war. A time is coming when a person’s entire personality will be judged by social platforms. And that exact truth, with a bit of exaggeration, was depicted in “Nosedive.”

Even though most countries are yet to get so much dependent on ratings, China has taken a leap forward. By 2020, China plans to devise a mechanism through which the Chinese Government will evaluate its citizens. Known as the Social Credit System, the system aims to rate people based on four parameters: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity, and judicial credibility. In short, the Chinese Government plans to measure the “trust” factor of each individual and organization.

Zhang Lifan, a sociologist, explains that people in China do not trust each other. They are always expecting to be stabbed in the back. He adds that this lack of trust is the result of the Cultural Revolution where near and dear ones were deliberately pitted against each other leading to the death of millions. Zhang believes that the Social Credit System will help people trust each other again. (source)

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5. Episode Concept: “Arkangel” depicts the use of an implanted chip to keep tabs on children. Parents can even pixelate images to see what’s bothering their kids. An overprotective mother allows her daughter to grow up with a chip and that turns out to be grave for both of them.

Reality: Numerous apps nowadays help parents to see the location of their kids and even keep a tab on what their kids are surfing online. To go one step ahead, scientists at UC Berkeley are developing a computer-based simulation that helps decode and reconstruct visual experiences. It’s still in the development phase but has the complete potential to compete with “Arkangel.”

Arkangel
A chip is inserted into a kid’s mind in a scene from “Arkangel.” Image Credit: Netflix

The Internet is filled with a lot of filthy content that should not be viewed by a kid. Parents today are constantly worried about their kids’ safety on the internet. They install apps that enable them to keep a tab on their children’s online activities. Some kid-safety plugins also enable parents to ban certain websites from their kids viewing. Black Mirror just went a few steps further to where an overprotective mother puts a chip in her daughter’s head to protect her from the cruel world. The chip enables the mother to blur out scary things, such as a barking dog, that might stress out her daughter.

Visual experience reconstruction
Using Hollywood movie trailers, UC Berkeley researchers have succeeded in decoding and reconstructing people’s dynamic visual experiences. Image Credit: YouTube

It might take a few more years for researchers to come up with such a chip, but UC Berkeley has already started its journey towards the goal. Scientists at the university are working on a technology that would enable reconstruction of people’s actual visual experiences. In layman’s terms, if this technology becomes perfect, we will be able to record our dreams.

The scientists are using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models for this technology. As of recent progress, they were able to reconstruct movie clips that the subjects had viewed earlier. Professor Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist, stated, “This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.”

If this technology becomes successful, it would create wonders for the medical world. It would help doctors better understand the minds of people who no longer have the ability to communicate verbally such as coma patients, stroke victims, and people with neurodegenerative diseases. (source)

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