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Black Mirror – A reflection of tech’s communication problem?

Tech, Black mirror

Image courtesy of Timo Arnall on Flickr

The latest season in Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series, Black Mirror – think The Twilight Zone brought to the digital age if you haven’t seen it – has given viewers much food for thought this past fortnight as modern technology and the anxieties it creates is brought to life in near futures and all too real settings for comfort.

The first episode, ‘Nosedive’, examines our relationship with social media through a world where every interaction you have with another human being is scored on a scale of 1 to 5. The second, ‘Playtest’ tells the story of what happens when virtual reality is applied to nightmares, reminding the viewer of Inception with its many layers. The third, ‘Shut up and dance’ is (frighteningly) firmly grounded in the today, looking at the aftermath of hacking – it will leave your morals in shreds, and you covering up the webcam on your computer.

Thus Black Mirror continues its downward spiral into a dark universe where technology has gone awry. But what makes the series so impactful is that these seemingly extreme scenarios are perfectly logical, un-fantastic conclusions to today’s rhetoric and digital addictions.

Technology continues to make vast leaps forward – look no further than the incredible innovations being made in robotics and AI, or the smart home. The most exciting thing you could do with your mobile ten years ago was play Snake – now they have us constantly connected to the internet and boast camera resolutions that rival professional gear. It’s exciting – but the changes are often so quick that unless you’re in the industry, it’s hard to keep up and understand exactly what’s happening.

tech, black mirror

Image courtesy of Weblizar on Flickr

 

In fact, even those who are in the know have voiced their doubts – in October, Stephen Hawking set up a new research institute at Cambridge University to ‘examine the morality and governance of AI’ following comments he previously made suggesting that ‘the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’

It paints a grim picture – but should it? We simply don’t know because we’re lacking some basic communication from the companies propelling the technology forward. What safe guards are they putting in place? How can users protect themselves? What accountability is there? What are the limitations of the technology and how can we be assured it will go no further to the detriment of humanity? Are ethics being taken properly into consideration?

Consider Tesla, and Elon Musk’s recent comments on how negative media coverage of autonomous vehicles could be ‘killing people’ when asked a question about liability in the case of crashes. It’s not to say that his argument doesn’t have merit – the technology is most likely dramatically safer than a human driver. But then, if no one understands exactly how they’ve been made safer, how the car would make split-second decisions in life or death situations, or how much responsibility Tesla would take when, even if extremely rare, the inevitable crashes do happen, how can people be expected to relinquish all power and put their lives in the company’s hands?

Brooker did, however, offer some light at the end of the tunnel. In the beautiful mythical seaside town of San Junipero – episode four – he offers a view of technology that could embrace you in comfort and warmth in your darkest hours. It’s unlike any Black Mirror we’ve ever known and truly uplifting – allowing us a glimpse of technology that has the capacity to do immense good if nurtured in the right way.

It’s important that Silicon Valley addresses these legitimate fears with openness, transparency and clarity – and not with frustration or impatience. After all, if you’re asking the world to adopt an epoch-changing technology, surely the one thing you should afford them is a bit of time to make an informed decision.

 

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