5 Min Read

Are We Living in Black Mirror?

Unless you’ve been living as a hermit in an isolated shack with no WI-FI, you’ve probably heard of the Netflix series, Black Mirror.

Black Mirror is phenomenal. Not only for its strong cast, crisp cinematography and intriguing scripts; but for its fresh outlook on the human condition, in how we navigate through future settings that present morally challenging situations in conjunction with new technology.

Each episode is poignant and strikes a chord with the viewer, as they acknowledge that what they just watched isn’t far-fetched and could realistically happen.

Although the show presents many interesting discussion points about society, often regarding where we draw the line morally, what is equally intriguing is the technology they feature that has become a well-integrated part of everyday life. Much of the technology has become incorporated physically into the human anatomy, turning everyone essentially into cyborgs. 

So, how close are we to experiencing some of the technology featured in BM? Well, we might be closer than you think!

One of the most prominent pieces of futuristic technology we see used appears in Season 1 Episode 3, where 

people have ‘grains’ implanted behind their ear. The grains allow for them to record memories and watch back on them either with their own eyes or as a projection. 

The grains are very much integrated into the society we see in the episode. So much so that they have become part of official procedures, such as going through security at an airport. At one point in the episode the central character is asked by airport security to rewind his last 24 hours (at a high speed) and then his week. In the episode characters are introduced to the idea of being ‘grain-free’, something very much out of the norm. 

In other episodes of BM there are various chips and implants with monitor like controls, used by people outside of the body of the chip recipient, as well as mind and vision altering effects.

We currently don’t have access to chips that are able to be inserted near or in our brains and that can record memories or access our vision. But we do have variations of this technology.

Radio frequency identification chip implants are becoming increasingly popular amongst daring tech nerds, keen body modifiers, bio hackers and, now, even work places. 

What is RFID?

“A radio frequency identification (RFID) system consists of a ‘transponder’, a ‘reader’ and a ‘back office’ system.” 

The ‘transponder’ transmits data through emitting radio waves, the data is then collected by the ‘reader’. The collected data is then sent to the ‘back office’, which is a data processing system. 

RFID tags are most commonly placed on things such as clothing tags, shopping trolleys and plastic cards. Readers can be fixed in certain located such as an entrance to a store, warehouse or toll gateway or they can be mobile like hand-held barcode scanners.

These microchips are the size of a grain of rice and are usually inserted into the hand, wrist or arm (when inserted into humans). They can be used to replace key cards, credit cards, hold information about ourselves and can interact with other devices. 

Advocates for RFID implants claim that it could save lives by giving access to your name, age, medical records and other information to emergency services. As mentioned, even work places are using them. A Swedish company, Epicenter, implanted chips into their workers to monitor their every move at work, including toilet breaks.

However, the introduction of RFID chips has certainly been met with scepticism. Various religious leaders have spoken out against chips, calling it the devil’s work. 

More legitimate critiques place questions around the ownership of the information collected by the chips. Does the person who has the chip own the information? Who can access this information? Will the government obtain access?

Many Tech experts are now encouraging governments to create legislation around human RFID implants before the technology progresses further.

So, we have implants but they currently don’t have access to our eyes or brain. We are getting closer, however, to technology that will be primarily centred around and used by our eyes.

In 2016, Google made several patent applications for different parts of a ‘Google Smart Contact Lens’. One of intentions for these lenses is for them to communicate with your smart phone through optical communication. They will also be able to be charged whilst being worn through the lens’ ability to harvest optical signals, through photodiodes, emitted by a smart phone. It’s expected that you will also be able to charge the lenses by looking at other light sources. 

What Google has indicated to be the most beneficial part of their lens is its ability to monitor the wearer’s health. It’s expected that the lenses will work in conjunction with an app where it will be able to tell you all sorts of information such as; your glucose levels, body temperature and even your blood alcohol content. It will even alert you if you need to seek medical attention.

Other features that the lenses may include are retina scanning, which will have RFID functions. It will also be able to assist with eye sight and a visible display that’s accessible without looking at a smart phone.

This technology is happening. And if the integration of smart phones and other 21st century technology says anything, it demonstrates our ability to quickly adapt to new devices; which often sees us signing over our information, rather naïvely, to large corporations. 

Although RFID chip implants are not widely used, they are on the rise. With the current lack of clarification on where our data goes, who owns it and absent government legislation, perhaps we should proceed with caution towards these technologies. Without being mindful, we could be heading towards our own real-life version of Black Mirror.