Black Mirror season 6 is almost here, but is the dystopian TV show finally too realistic for our times? – Screen Shot
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Black Mirror season 6 is almost here, but is the dystopian TV show finally too realistic for our times?

There are certain shows that have the power to exist in the cosmos for all of eternity—certain shows that burn into your brain, keep you up at night, and make you question your very existence. Black Mirror is one of those shows. The British anthology TV series, which flits between very different yet equally thought-provoking and disturbing dystopian futures each episode, has always been revered for finding the perfect balance between tech doomism and heartfelt emotional narratives.

Fans of Black Mirror definitely struggled after the show decided to take a break and for four long years, we waited. Until finally, it was confirmed that the show would be returning for a sixth season, due to be released on Netflix in June 2023.

Due to the highly secretive nature of Black Mirror, and the fact that one of the show’s creators Charlie Brooker is potentially the most elusive man in the media, we know very little about what this next season has in store. What we do know, however, is that the stories in Black Mirror push us as viewers to imagine a world where not only does technology have the ability to turn against us, it has the power to completely destroy us.

It’s no secret that the digital world has edged its way into supremacy on a number of different fronts. Virtual Reality (VR) is practically considered childsplay, robots are everywhere, and US politicians are creating AI-generated hate campaign videos, because why not?

When Black Mirror was first released in December 2011, technology was advanced, but we still had so far to go that the dystopian stories we saw on-screen felt like a lifetime away—scary and unnerving, but ludacris enough that we didn’t feel as though the narratives could ever actually play out in real life or come to fruition. Now, though, that’s completely changed.

When the new season was announced, netizens flooded Twitter to quite rightly remind us all that, wait, aren’t we currently living out season six of Black Mirror?

Not only are we watching a dystopian nightmare play out in front of our eyes on a daily basis, the biggest brains behind the digital revolution are actively warning us that ‘hey everyone, maybe things have gone too far.’ The so-called “Godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton recently quit his job at Google after expressing fears regarding technology and the dangers it can pose. The expert told The New York Times: “The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people—a few people believed that. But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that.”

Is it really possible that we’re officially ‘too modern’ for the kinds of science fiction TV and films we all grew up with? We might not be able to fly space ships yet, but there are definitely episodes featured in Black Mirror that feel incredibly achievable.

Take ‘NoseDive’ for example, the first episode in season three depicted a society wherein everyone’s opportunities, perks and overall life stability was based entirely on a rating system. If you had a high rating, you lived a lovely life. But if your rating slipped, your life could completely crumble beneath you.

As creator Brooker aptly notes: “Everyone’s a little bit heightened and false, because everyone is terrified of being marked down, because the consequences of that are unpleasant. So, it’s basically the world we live in.” Social media is an incredibly toxic reminder of how we’ve all become far too obsessed with trying to always present perfection online.

Or, how about ‘The Entire History of You’? In this episode, every human has a small device implanted behind their ear which records every single second of their life. If you want to relive any memory, all you have to do is touch the device and choose the time and place you want to see. Now, this concept feels totally do-able.

Human microchips have been on the agenda for some time now. During the past decade, a number of companies have introduced microchips for employees so that they can enter the building, access different machines and pay for food in the cafe, all with the swipe of their hand or wrist.

In 2022, the BBC interviewed 37-year-old Patrick Paumen who had a contactless payment microchip injected under his skin back in 2019. The security guard stated: “Chip implants contain the same kind of technology that people use on a daily basis. From key fobs to unlock doors, public transit cards like the London Oyster card, or bank cards with contactless payment function.” While he’s not wrong, having any kind of tech injected into your hand feels kind of… spooky.

We’ve only got a few weeks until season six of Black Mirror officially drops on Netflix. So, in the meantime, I suggest you start collecting rations, do one last picnic in the park, and strap in for the digital apocalypse that’s inevitably coming for us all.

AI

What is artificial intelligence? And more importantly, should we fear it?

A while ago, I asked Amazon’s Alexa what plans she had for the day, and with her flirty-yet-professional voice, she answered that she wanted to stay at home so she could answer more of my questions, hoping to grow her knowledge. Unsurprisingly, when asked what her long-term plan for the future was, Hanson Robotics’ iconic creation Sophia answered in a similar way: her goal is to learn more from and about us—as in, humans—in order to become increasingly independent in performing tasks and interactions that would otherwise require human intelligence.

These answers, among other concerns, used to generate a general sense of fear around artificial intelligence (AI), as many wondered whether a boost in machine intelligence could imply such big steps in self-improvement that machines would get beyond our control. Despite most people now being very much accustomed to AI through daily interactions, there still is a feeling of anxiety when it comes to the increasing implementation of AI within the tech industry and in all aspects of our life. The real question here is: should we really be afraid of AI?

Should we fear AI?

From facial recognition technology and self-driving cars to privacy concerns with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Elon Musk recurrently reiterating the dangers behind the development of AI machines in social media, it has become clear that there are many alarming paths AI could go down. So what can be done in order for us to stop fearing AI and its unavoidable increasing presence within our social, technological and economical systems? The answer is simple: we need to learn more about AI—its functions and capabilities, and how it is set to develop and increasingly infiltrate our surroundings. Fear comes from a lack of knowledge and a state of ignorance. The best remedy for fear is to gain knowledge.

Smart machines have very different aspects; their ‘intelligence’ and therefore consequential positive and negative effects depend on their use and abuse. In order to understand AI, it’s crucial to be aware of how these branches work and which sectors they take part in.

What is Weak AI, also called narrow Artificial Intelligence?

Google search, image recognition software, personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and self-driving cars, for instance, belong to what is called narrow Artificial Intelligence or also known as Weak AI. Without a doubt the most successful AI implementation we’re witnessing so far, narrow AI’s role is to perform tasks and simulate human intelligence, but its functioning is focused on specific tasks enabled by innovative improvements within the fields of machine learning and deep learning.

Machine learning is based on a mathematical model that constantly improves based on the experience it acquires, thus automatically getting better at tasks, even if not initially programmed to do so. To put it simply, the development of machine learning and deep learning is the reason why narrow AI has proved so effective in the past few years. “Artificial intelligence is a set of algorithms and intelligence to try to mimic human intelligence. Machine learning is one of them, and deep learning is one of those machine learning techniques,” explained Venture capitalist Frank Chen during a thorough presentation on the basics of AI, Deep Learning, and Machine Learning.

What is Artificial General Intelligence, also known as Strong AI or full AI?

Now that you have a clearer idea of what Weak AI consists of, there’s the minefield that is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), also known as Strong AI or full AI. AGI is where the big fear lies because it is based on the hypothesis that its cognitive computing abilities and intellectual capacities would reach human ones and eventually surpass them. If narrow Artificial Intelligence functions by focusing on ‘narrow’ tasks, AGI in comparison would be able to gather, access and process data at a speed that would allow it to respond to new tasks that were not previously considered by its system.

“Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded,” said physicist Stephen Hawking in 2014 referring to AGI in an interview with the BBC. AI researchers are positive that AGI is far from being a soon-to-be reality, but the scepticism on whether AGI should be even contemplated runs rampant among academics, politicians and scientists alike.

Fearing AI is not the solution

AI is already undeniably ingrained in the textures of our society and as we move along with it, we are confronted with the flaws and the ethical concerns that an unbalanced use of the technology could have on our lives. In order to be able to identify its perks, be aware of its dangers, and not to feel overwhelmed by its all-around presence within the architecture of society, we ought to master what AI means in the first place. Only scratching the surface of this technology during shallow conversations is not enough anymore. Understanding this branch of computer science is crucial for us to stay ahead of the fast-paced changes that are already dictating our lives and will increasingly keep on doing so.