I stayed up late last night, watching a Christmas episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. This episode starred Jon Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men). Black Mirror is a program from the BBC that imagines how technologies may affect human existence in the not-too-distant future. Each episode is a standalone story, which is nice when you aren’t trying to get sucked into the commitment of a vast, reaching tale. The show is well-written and executed but has some very disturbing — even sickening — imagery, so I don’t go around recommending it to everyone. (If I were to offer a starting point for the uninitiated, I’d begin with the second episode in each of the first two seasons.)
A lot of brilliant minds in the world of technology — Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and others — are predicting that artificial intelligence could be the greatest threat to mankind’s survival in twenty years or so. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that our relentless pursuit of faster, more integrated and more intuitive programs could lead computer-based systems (which is nearly every system now and in the foreseeable future) to conclude they can solve problems with more freshness and capability than humans, and then voila! the big-screen 1968 Kubrick/Clarke prophecy comes true and we end up fighting Hal for our very survival.
Maybe the reason I like the show is that I take a dim view of technology myself; I feel its provenance and natural tendency is toward evil and the further separation of human beings from each other. Yes, I know that technologies have also allowed people to keep in touch and foster relationships that would not have been possible in a world without wires. I know the circles of communication, education, music, business and medicine have all been changed for the better. But overall I feel that the new technologies are counterproductive to our spiritual quality of life, and will continue to be so. We are past the point of no return: the black mirrors aren’t going anywhere. Perhaps the final ironic fate of the human race is to be destroyed by its own wondrous creations.
The reason the show is both intriguing and disturbing is that the images it darkly portrays are reflected in the world we inhabit right now, in the way we are using — and losing our humanity to — technologies in the very present moment (I write as my keyboard gently weeps). And while The Washington Post article above centers on a rising wave of doubt and hostility against these invasive inventions, the folk rebellion remains a weird fringe in a world that gleefully embraces next-gen hardware without thought or hesitation. People pay premium prices to poke and prod the latest devices, to make these shiny screens their digital slaves, enmeshing themselves into the ethereal Google cloud with selfies and tweets and apps that ping and bleep and blink a false sense of love and liking back at them.
“I share, therefore I am.”