The Science of Black Mirror

Justin Hedworth

Charlie Brooker’s award-winning, darkly satirical TV series, Black Mirror, has piqued much interest through its deliciously sci-fi concepts. Satirizing topics such as social media, politics and many aspects of modern society, no topic is truly safe from Brooker’s cynical and dark imagination. Each episode handles a different cast in different setting, with a different reality. Before the third series’ imminent release on Netflix, we dissect the science behind the previous seasons and see just how close these ideas are to becoming our reality.

Black Mirror is Brooker’s looking glass to where society could find itself in a few years if the trends, technology and media take just a few darker steps down their current paths. Several episodes deal with the topic of the near future and its potential technological advances – technology that could seemingly be a natural evolution from today’s innovations and media consumption.

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Image Credit: Netflix

Fifteen Million Merits

In one episode, the world depicted has deep social divisions, with the lower classes made to power society by riding exercise bikes. With our current climate crisis begging for an alternate energy source to fossil fuels, could human power via exercise bikes be a potential answer?

Only last year the mysterious billionaire Manoj Bhargava unveiled his hybrid energy-producing exercise bike ‘Free Electric’. By pedalling the bike, the rider charges a battery that could be used to power the home of its user.  Bhargava hopes to use the technology to bring power to remote villages in India as he claims that cycling for one hour can power a home for 24 hours. This is an ideal technology for those with basic electricity needs but if attempting to meet the energy needs of an average American or European home, the bike simply couldn’t produce enough power.

On the popular BBC science program Bang Goes the Theory, they showed that 78 people were required to cycle intensively to power just one shower. Due to heavy energy losses throughout the conversion of exercise to electricity, a reliance upon cycling as our next energy source isn’t very plausible in its current state. So it seems like the idea of a future where the poor power the world through cycling is probably quite far away and that can only be a good thing.

The Entire History of You

Another technology-heavy affair in the first series deals in a world where its inhabitants all have a grain-sized computer implanted behind their ear that records and stores every aspect of their day from the user’s point of view. This allows memories to be played back for the person to see at any time.

This may sound like a brilliant sci-fi concept but there is already a corporate race going on to bring this technology into the real world, through the use of ‘smart’ contact lenses. This year alone, both Sony and Samsung have filed patents for Smart contact lens technology that sounds eerily familiar to the episode of Black Mirror with all of its video capturing and recall abilities.

With several types of smart contact lens being created, including those that record video, and computers getting continually smaller, the technology painted by Black Mirror seems pretty plausible. Earlier this year a team of Dutch scientists developed the world’s smallest hard drive, the size of a postage stamp but capable of storing up to 500TB of data. Smart contact lenses are coming for us whether we like it or not, it’s just a matter of when.

Be Right Back

Starting series two on a rather bleak note, the most striking science aspect of Brooker’s vision is the capability to create a digital copy of yourself and then upload it to a part synthetic/part robotic body that can carry on as “you” after your death.

Already in the world there exists several companies striving to make certain aspects of this idea a reality. Robotics companies such as Hanson Robotics are attempting to give a nuanced almost lifelike realism to robots, while an online company Lifenaut analyses your online presence to produce a “cyber-personality” that could potentially be uploaded into an android.

However, for an accurate copy of a consciousness to be made or to upload the actual consciousness of a person, scientists believe it will be at least four decades until such a time where computers will be at a level to simulate a human brain. So while it may be plausible, Black Mirror’s android based immortality may need some time before it reaches us here in the real world.
Black Mirror is today’s dark science fiction, the Twilight Zone of the technology age, where this science fiction is dancing on the knife-edge of becoming a reality. With Season 3 debuting on Netflix today (21st October 2016), I for one cannot wait to see the next instalments of Charlie Brooker’s dark, warped visions.

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