Technology is developing at such a rapid pace. Inventions that were merely concepts in sciencefiction a few decades ago are now accessible to the general public. In some cases, maybe it was for the best that these innovations remained fictional. Black Mirror explores the frightening possibilities of what might happen if technology is regarded above human life.
The anthology series created by Charlie Booker will be returning to Netflix for its sixth season this June, and judging by the trailer, it looks a lot better than their original proposal for season six when they rolled out bus stop ads with mirrors and the tagline “6th Season. Live Now, everywhere” during the early months of the pandemic (to be honest, it really did feel like we were experiencing a dark satire in real life). In anticipation for the new batch of episodes, we’ll be examining five times Black Mirror has predicted the future over the past dozen years, sometimes more accurately than others. Let’s just hope this list doesn’t grow any time soon.
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Be Right Back (S02E01)
When her boyfriend Ash (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina) is killed in a car crash, Martha (Hayley Atwell, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) signs up for a program that allows her to text with a chatbot that imitates Ash’s personality based on his social media posts. Unsatisfied with instant messaging, she uploads videos and voice recordings of Ash to the program so she can speak to a voice generated to sound like Ash’s. The artificial intelligence’s voice brings Martha comfort, but she still finds it too limiting, so she upgrades to the most expensive tier of the program: a lifelike robot that looks and acts almost exactly like her dead boyfriend (with additional upgrades for the bedroom).
In the past couple years, people in the UK, China and South Korea have developed tech using artificial intelligence so that families can speak with digital recreations of their deceased loved ones via video call. The tech pulls information from social media posts, images and videos of the dearly departed, using tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and speech synthesis to produce a moving avatar on a screen. In South Korea, folks who are given a short time to live can consent to having their likeness turned into a hologram after they pass, though it involves being interviewed for hours and having several pictures taken of them from all angles prior to kicking the bucket.
This futuristic whodunnit follows Detectives Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald, Trainspotting) and Blue Coulson (Faye Marsay, Game of Thrones) as they investigate a series of mysterious deaths of controversial celebrities. The one thing linking each case is the victims’ names appeared on social media with the hashtag #DeathTo the day before they died.
The two detectives eventually uncover the common cause of death: thousands of Autonomous Drone Insects implemented by the government to replace bees (and simultaneously surveil the general public using facial recognition). The ADIs were then hacked by a disgruntled former employee of the tech company that developed them to track down the most hated person on social media for that day, fly into their body through the mouth and kill them from the inside out.
Bee populations are declining at an alarming rate due to human activity, and once they go extinct, the whole natural world could collapse along with them, since the bees provide a vital service to the environment by picking up and spreading pollen from flowers, allowing plants and crops to reproduce. In anticipation of this disaster scenario, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University invented RoboBees, miniature drones about the size of a paperclip that can take over pollination duties. However, the project is still in its early stages, so they have yet to be produced in mass quantities, and subsequently hacked to murder celebrities.
Filmed entirely in black and white, the story for Metalhead is fairly straightforward. Set in a desolate wasteland, a group of survivors break into a warehouse looking for a specific item. Unfortunately, they attract the attention of a robotic guard dog, which quickly kills off two of the companions, and for the rest of the episode is in hot pursuit of the lone survivor Bella (Maxine Peake, Wendell & Wild). Not only can the dog fire bullets from its front legs, but it can hijack cars and pick up other weapons like knives for maximum killing efficiency.
The design of the dog in Metalhead was inspired by the four-legged BigDog robots created by Boston Dynamics with funding from the US military in the hopes of developing robot pack mules that could maneuver through rough terrain. The project was discontinued because the robots were deemed too loud for combat. But Boston Dynamics continued to develop smaller versions of the quadruped robot, leading to the creation of Spot, their lightest and quietest invention to date.
These models can be fitted with other devices like a retractable arm or a camera or a submachine gun. In recent years, police departments across the US have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase these robot dogs, despite backlash from the public who worry that making a robot responsible for policing humans could lead to multiple rights violations. What’s next, robot dogs with robot bees in their mouth and when they bark, they shoot bees at you?!
The debut episode when Black Mirror transitioned from Channel 4 to Netflix imagines a society where each person has a star rating based on their social media posts and their interactions with others. People with high ratings are given exclusive access to services, whereas people with lower ratings are treated like pariahs. Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) sits at a 4.2, but is hoping to boost her rating to a 4.5 to qualify for a discount for a luxury home in a chic neighborhood. She sees her opportunity to move up when she’s invited to be a maid of honor at the wedding of her childhood friend Naomi (Alice Eve, Men in Black 3), which will have plenty of highly-rated people in attendance.
But on her way to the wedding, Lacie has a few bad interactions that lower her rating, barring her from accessing faster modes of transportation. This causes her to snap at the service people out of frustration, reducing her score lower and lower. Over the course of one night, her rating drops below 3, resulting in Naomi rescinding her invitation. Nonetheless, Lacie shows up to the wedding, covered in dirt and looking manic, and causes a scene when she insists on doing the speech she prepared, plummeting her score to near zero.
“Black Mirror explores the frightening possibilities of what might happen if technology is regarded above human life.”
This episode came to mind when the government of China proposed the implementation of a social credit system, where individuals and companies are rated based on their behavior and trustworthiness. Each person would start off at 1000 points. They can either boost that number up to 1300 by doing charity work or praising the government on social media, or they can go as low as 600 by breaking the law or criticizing the government.
Those with good scores will be given priority to housing, healthcare, education, transportation and loans, but those with low scores will have restricted access to services, and can even be blacklisted. As of this writing, most local governments of the country have introduced a version of this system, or have plans to very soon. The idea has been condemned by Western media and leaders, though it’s not too far off from our own credit rating system.
The National Anthem (S01E01)
The very first episode of Black Mirror really set the bar for the disturbing nature of the series. In this episode, a member of the British royal family is kidnapped and will only be released if Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear, Men) has sex with a pig live on television. His administration tries to find workarounds for the broadcast, like superimposing the PM’s face onto a bestiality porn actor’s body, but the kidnapper catches wind of this scheme and sends a severed finger in the mail as a warning of what might happen if his instructions aren’t followed exactly as stated. With time running out, Callow is left with no other option except to have intercourse with the pig on camera while the entire nation watches.
In 2015, an unauthorized biography of former British Prime Minister David Cameron called Call Me Dave was published by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott. The book included an anecdote from an anonymous Member of Parliament who alleged that during his university years, Cameron inserted his genitals into the mouth of a severed pig’s head as part of a bizarre initiation ceremony for the Piers Gaveston Society at Oxford University. A spokesperson for Cameron refused to comment on the allegation, but the British media ate the scandal up, giving it the name ‘Piggate’ and drawing parallels to the Black Mirror episode.
“Let’s just hope this list doesn’t grow any time soon…”
Season Six of Black Mirrorwill be available to stream on Netflix beginning June 15. Any other future predictions we might have missed? What’s your favorite episode? Let us know over on Twitter or start a discussion with the Fiends over in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!