Humans are obsessed with technology. According to CNN, 80 percent of teens now check their phones hourly for updates and 72 percent feel the need to immediately respond if they receive a text. More than half of adults put themselves at risk by checking phones while they’re driving and almost as many make regular efforts to “cut down” the amount of time they spend on their device. Meanwhile, advances in future technologies like VR and augmented reality make it easier than ever for users to lose themselves in virtual worlds or change their perception of reality. So it’s worth considering: What’s the next step? Here’s a look at five technologies from season three of terrifying sci-fi series “Black Mirror” — could they really exist, and what’s the potential public impact?
1) “San Junipero”: Eternal Life
Let’s start with arguably the most hopeful episode of the series: San Junipero. It’s simple: The titular town is actually a VR construct which houses the consciousness of the dead or dying and allows them to enjoy a kind of eternal life as their younger selves. The living are allowed to “visit” five hours per week and those on their deathbed can choose an upload to San Junipero or a natural demise.
Could it happen in real life? Possibly. MMOs (or Massively Multiplayer Online) are massively popular and advancements in VR now make it possible to see, hear and feel in virtual space. Neurological progress is also being made — for example, researchers may have discovered a way to give amputees direct control over artificial limbs with better neuron readings. Simply put, don’t expect to see eternal life advertised next week but don’t rule it out. Potential problems? People ending their lives early to enjoy paradise, or a server failure that “crashes” eternal life consciousness.
2) “Nosedive”: Continual Person-to-Person Ratings
What if social media had bigger teeth? That’s the idea behind the future technologies in “Nosedive,” which imagines a world where everyone rates everyone else and these ratings directly inform social status, allowing highly rated people access to medical treatments and better living conditions. In reality, this tech already has legs: Consider controversial app Peeple, which lets users write “reviews” of other human beings. Not surprisingly, the creation of the app caused an online ratings backlash for the creator — who was oddly surprised by this effect — and already there’s talk of letting people pay to access everything that has been written about them. The potential impact? Social judgment on an entirely new scale.
3) “Hated in the Nation”: Artificial Bees
With the bee population at critical levels, an episode involving artificial insects was timely. But the problem didn’t stem from pollination — instead, the bees were given kill-commands using facial-recognition technology to seek out “hated” targets as judged by social media. While current robotics don’t match this level of sophistication, the notion of co-opting cybernetic devices for nefarious purposes isn’t new and big companies like Google are shoveling money into better facial recognition.
4) “Men Against Fire”: Augmented Reality
In “Men Against Fire” soldiers have their strength, speed and senses enhanced with a device called the MASS. As it turns out, the device changes the way they see potential targets, making regular humans seem like monsters and therefore easier to attack. Military desensitization training isn’t exactly new, but consider the social implications: Already, tech like Snapchat and its Spectacles let you apply filters to faces in real time; what if this became commonplace, allowing users to see who and what they wanted to see, when they wanted to see it? Not only could this make for some awkward interactions — but if devices were hacked, the results could be disastrous.
5) “White Christmas”: The Z-Eye
It’s not from season 3 but it deserves a mention on the list of future technologies — the Z-Eye tech from “White Christmas” which lets users “block” others and appear as nothing more than white static. It works in a few different ways: as a kind of restraining order which prevents one of the main characters from seeing his estranged girlfriend or their daughter, and a government-imposed whiteout for another “peeping tom” who sees everyone as white static while they see him as red.
Sure, mandatory implants aren’t on the docket just yet but wearables are on the way up and given the connection obsession prevalent worldwide, it’s not hard to imagine a world where social tech is used to restrict interaction based on personal preference or as punishment for crimes. The concern? Extremes — for instance, what happens in the case of a wrongful conviction or device malfunction? Whiteouts seem harmless enough but what happens when being part of an overly social world means you’re entirely alone?
Technology isn’t inherently good or evil. As evidenced by “Black Mirror,” it’s our interpretation and implementation of new devices which ultimately determines their public impact.