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

6. Episode Concept: Cyberbullying is the focus of the “Shut Up and Dance” episode. The episode shows hackers spying through a teenager’s webcam and blackmailing him into a series of high-risk encounters.

Reality: Hackers stealing people’s personal information has become a common occurrence. Hackers are taking control of people’s webcam and disclosing sensitive personal information to the world. The episode explores the possibilities if these hackers intend to have fun with their victims.

Cyberbullying
Left: A still from the episode “Shut Up and Dance”/ Right: People are constantly being victimized by hackers who take control of their webcam and blackmail. Image Credit: Netflix, Pixabay

Recently there have been numerous cases where hackers have turned innocent people into their slaves. They take control of the victim’s webcam and record personal communications or acts. They then blackmail the victim into doing their bidding. Even Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and ex FBI-Director James Comey have black tape over their webcams.

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“Shut Up and Dance” depicts exactly this menace. It even goes one step further where the hacker just intends to have a little bit more fun with his victim. Security expert Candid Wueest says that some hackers demand a ransom of around £100 ($135) to not release sensitive information into social media. He further adds, “Unfortunately, there are some people just doing it for the fun of it to have power over others. If they have someone who really freaked out or cried in front of the machine, they boast about that. It’s one of the ugliest types of cyberbullying we’ve seen.” (source)

7. Episode Concept: “The Entire History of You” depicts a universe where people use camera-inbuilt contact lenses to record each and every moment of their lives. They can then easily go back to any memory they wish and experience it all over again.

Reality: The cloud-based photo storage systems are always sharing memories with the users. While this is something that we have already achieved, Samsung has gone one step further. In 2014, they patented smart contact lenses with built-in cameras. Even Google and Sony are also working on similar projects.

Smart contact lens
Left: A still from “The Entire History of You”/ Right: Google introduced their smart contact lens project in 2014. Image Credit: Netflix, Google

A common element in futuristic detective movies is the agent equipped with glasses that can record and as well as transmit information. We have reached the future that these movies portray. Samsung patented a smart contact lens in South Korea in 2016. The lens would have a display that would project images and video to the wearer’s eyes directly. A blink of an eye is all you need to operate the camera and the sensors. Moreover, the lens would have the ability to directly transmit data to a smart device. Feels like we all are going to join the FBI soon!

On a serious note, Samsung’s smart contact lenses would be a stepping stone for augmented reality. These lenses would enable VR to be projected right into the person’s eye for a more immersive experience minus the headset.

Samsung is not the only one entering the smart contact lens market. Google owns two patents for smart lenses that have the ability to read the fluid content of the wearer’s eye and determine if the person’s blood sugar levels have dropped to a fatal level. Sony, on the other hand, was working on smart contact lenses that would record whatever the wearer is witnessing upon his request. The lens would be embedded with sensors that are capable of differentiating voluntary and involuntary blinks. Once developed, the capture and storage ability would be embedded into the lens near the iris. Moreover, the lens would be powered by piezoelectric sensors that would convert the twitches of the eye into energy.

Although all the smart contact lenses are a theory as of now, it still makes one think of the limitless possibilities of the future. (1, 2)

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8. Episode Concept: “Hated in the Nation” depicts a world where mechanical bees are being used to pollinate as well as provide a mass surveillance people. Someone got hold of these bees and programmed them to cause deaths.

Reality: Robotic bees are no longer a prediction. They have become a reality with Walmart filing for a patent for autonomous robotic bees or technically pollinating drones. Even Dutch scientists have also created a fleet of robotic bees for pollination.

Robotic bees
Left: The robotic bees portrayed in the episode “Hated in the Nation”/ Right: Robotic bee developed by Harvard University. Image Credit: Netflix, Harvard University via Business Insider

With more technology coming in, we are heavily stressing our environment. Climate change is one of the consequences of our actions that have serious repercussions. Global climate change is threatening the existence of bees. Without bees, there would be no pollination. To counteract the problem, a group of scientists from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has come up with a solution. The solution is to use robotic bees for controlled pollination. The design for the robotic bee is based on the motion patterns and aerodynamics of the wings of fruit flies.

Sensors incorporated in the bees help them to avoid collision with obstacles. A researcher working on the project, Matěj Karásek, says, “The use we see for this is pollination in greenhouses. The bee is under threat due to our farming methods, and we don’t know what their future will be. This is one solution. We are not trying to copy flies and bees, but we are trying to learn from them.”

Walmart has also patented autonomous robotic bees that would pollinate crops like real bees. Apart from Walmart, Harvard University also introduced their first robotic bees, Robobees, in 2013. Considering the ongoing research on robotic bees, it’s safe to assume that a few years down the line, robotic bees would be a common thing. Maybe surveillance would be another use case for these robotic bees. Who knows what the future holds? (1, 2)

9. Episode Concept: “Fifteen Million Merits” shows a world where people earn credits when they pedal stationary bicycles to generate energy. They then use those credits for food and entertainment.

Reality: This is actually happening in the case of inmates in Brazil. The prisoners pedal bikes to generate electricity for the city. This helps them to knock off a few years of their prison sentence. Moreover, MIT is working towards the development of a wearable electrode with which people would be able to generate power for themselves.

Generate power by pedaling
Left: A scene from the episode “Fifteen Million Merits” where people are made to pedal in order to gain credits/ Right: Inmates in a Brazilian correction facility pedal to generate power for the prison and the city. Image Credit: Netflix, Autoblog

“Fifteen Million Merits” is a disturbing episode. Here, people confined to a building keep pedaling to earn credits. They can then use those credits for food and entertainment. Basically, pedaling generates electricity for the entire building. Is that how the future is going to be?

In a facility in Brazil, pedaling inmates generate electricity. The more you pedal, the less your punishment is going to be. This particular facility is located near Santa Rita do Sapucai in São Paulo. The electricity produced lights up the prison and the neighboring areas. Moreover, this helps prison authorities to keep the inmates in shape. Pedaling for 24 hours leads to a one-day reduction in a sentence.

In other news, MIT has figured out a way to harness energy from the movements of people. The solution is a stamp-sized device that utilizes a person’s bending movements to generate electricity. Two tiny lithium-alloyed silicon electrodes comprise the device. An electrolyte-soaked polymer sheet separates the electrodes. Inserting the device into a body part that bends and flexes a lot would start the electricity-generation process. When this technology gets efficient, chargers and power banks would become redundant. (1, 2)

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10. Episode Concept: In the “San Junipero” episode, technology enables people to upload brains into computers where they can live out their wildest fantasies in the virtual city of San Junipero.

Reality: A startup, Nectome, is working on a mind-uploading service. They are working on a technology to preserve brains with microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. Their aim is to basically digitize the brains and revive dead people’s consciousnesses in the future. But the catch is that digitization of the brain would require the person to be dead.

San Junipero
The “San Junipero” episode depicts a cloud-based world where the two aged women (right) live as their younger selves in the virtual city of San Junipero. Image Credit: Netflix

Uploading one’s consciousness to the cloud after their death sounds almost unachievable. But we have come so far in technology that it might be possible soon. Nectome, a startup by an MIT graduate, is working towards making it a reality. The co-founder, Robert McIntyre, describes the startup as a mind-uploading service that is 100% fatal. It is fatal because preservation and simulation of the brain in the future would require the person to be dead.

For the service to work, the brain needs to be fresh. So, Nectome has been planning to connect with terminally ill people who have asked for doctor-assisted suicide. The startup’s plan is to preserve the brain and extract microscopic details from it using a high-tech embalming process. So in the future, a simulation of the preserved brain would create a digital version of the person. Sounds unbelievable, but Nectome had already jumped on the futuristic wagon.

In 2018, amid criticisms from people, Nectome announced that they are still in the research phase and do not have any immediate plans to upload brains. It might be years before this idea comes to fruition. That is both as exciting as it is terrifying. (1, 2)

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