In the eight years since it first aired, the words Black Mirror have become popular shorthand for an overreliance on digital technology and news stories that veer toward the dystopian. And five seasons and an interactive movie later, showrunner Charlie Brooker’s visions of the near future have been proved time and time again to be quite prescient. Here are seven episodes of the show that seemed to foresee the technology and trends that are now (or will very soon be) a part of our everyday lives.
7 Times ‘Black Mirror’ Predicted the Future
‘Be Right Back’
In this affecting episode from the second season, a grieving woman (Hayley Atwell) subscribes to a service that promises to bring her deceased fiancé “back” from the dead in the form of a Siri-like virtual avatar that reproduces his personality based on his digital footprint. Being Black Mirror, the tale escalates until she is installing him into an artificial body—and the incredible thing is, all this technology already exists in some form or another.
Real-life start-ups like Eternime allow people to create digital avatars of their loved ones based on the wealth of data they have generated on social media. And artificially intelligent robots based on real people aren’t such a farfetched idea: In 2010, Hanson Robotics and Terasem Movement created a “social robot,” the BINA48, whose appearance and personality was modeled after Terasem owner Martine Rothblatt’s wife, Bina Aspen.
The ways in which artificial intelligence will change how we cope with death and grief are explored in a number of other Black Mirror episodes—most notably “San Junipero” and “The Black Museum”—while AIs based on real people also recur to darkly comic effect in “USS Callister” and “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.” This is clearly a theme that Brooker enjoys revisiting and exploring as the likelihood increases that extending a person’s likeness beyond death will become a normalized part of our society.
What makes “Nosedive” so enjoyable (and increasingly tense) is that its Instagram-perfect society draws so accurately from the influencer culture and five-star Uber rating economy that we’re already living in. Start-up Peeple tried (and failed) to bring its “Yelp for human beings” rating app to market a couple of years ago, with critics immediately pointing to the fact that such a platform would immediately become a playground for trolls and abusers. But in China, the “social credit system,” which aims to rank citizens by “trustworthiness” based on their financial and social data, is moving ahead.
One of the starkest, scariest episodes to date, “Metalhead” follows Bella (Maxine Peake) across an isolated post-apocalyptic world as she flees an inhuman pursuer: a robot that moves like a dog. Its resourcefulness is both impressive and terrifying in the episode and lends a sense of dread to the videos coming out of Boston Dynamics’ work with robotic dogs (see below).
‘The Waldo Moment’
One of the less memorable installments in the series, “The Waldo Moment” asks what would happen if a cartoon character got into politics? The cartoon character in question is Waldo, a simulation controlled by an increasingly disillusioned puppeteer. Anyone with an iPhone can now achieve this, using the animated iMessage feature’s facial recognition technology to generate a cartoon avatar whose expressions and behaviors mirror their own. The remote-controlled Ashley O hologram in the latest season’s “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”—purposely modeled on “ghoulish” performances by holographic versions of artists like Tupac and Amy Winehouse—represents where these expressive avatars could be going next.
‘Shut Up and Dance’
One of the few episodes of Black Mirror that doesn’t feature futuristic technology, “Shut Up and Dance” follows a young man who is blackmailed by hackers and coerced into carrying out a series of increasingly criminal acts. While concerns around hacking and cybersecurity aren't exactly new, his episode anticipated a trend that would become increasingly prevalent over the next couple of years: “sextortion”, in which individuals’ nudes are stolen and used as leverage, with teenage boys being especially targeted.
‘Hated in the Nation’
As with the mechanical dogs in “Metalhead,” the technological animals in “Hated in the Nation” can be found in the real world. The episode introduces autonomous drone insects (ADIs) as a solution to colony collapse disorder, and scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have had a similar idea, working on manually controlled drones capable of carrying and distributing pollen. Researchers at Harvard, meanwhile, have created the “Aerial-Aquatic Microbot”:
The memory-recording technology featured in “Crocodile” first appeared in season one’s “The Entire History of You,” and both times it leads the episode’s protagonist down a dark road. But “Crocodile” also introduces a truly utopian concept: self-driving pizza delivery vans. Finally, a prediction we can get on board with! And they could soon be gliding onto a street near you: At the Consumer Electronics Show last year, Pizza Hut partnered with Toyota to unveil their first “fully autonomous delivery concept vehicle.”