Netflix recently released the three episodes of season 5 of the acclaimed series Black Mirror. As people who have seen earlier seasons know, this show takes a somewhat dark look at the impact of technology on our lives. It is usually set a little in the future and imagines advances on current technology that on the surface seem benign and even a boon to people but turn out to have unexpected negative consequences. In particular it focuses on the kind of technology that is ubiquitous, such as social media and AI.
While still enjoyable, I thought that the stories this season were not as sharply written or thought provoking as before. The first episode Striking Vipers resurrected an idea from one used in USS Callister from season 4 where people can immerse themselves in virtual reality. In this episode, a video game enables a player to go beyond merely manipulating their avatar using the controller but actually enter the body of their avatar and control it from within. But the story does not fully explore the interesting possibilities of what can happen when the body you inhabit is very different from your own, such as having a different gender.
The second episode Smithereen does not even look into the future but instead is a commentary on the current addiction to social media, addiciton that is deliberately created by algorithms designed to entice people to spend more and more time on the sites at the expense of being aware of their immediate surroundings. It also comments on how the social media companies have more access to information about people and can get hold of that information much quicker than the police. I thought that its message was fariry trite.
The third episode Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too has as its main idea the ability to download the entire brain of a person and insert it into a robot so that it talks just like the person, as well as enabling people to extract information from the brain. In this case, the person whose brain has been downloaded is a teen pop sensation (played by Miley Cyrus who could easily draw upon her own roots for the character) who is fed up with the kind of music that made her famous and instead wants to produce harder-edged rock music, much to the concern of the people around her who want her to continue producing the same stuff that has made them all rich. This story is played mainly for laughs.
Here’s the trailer.
Interestingly, on her show recently, Samantha Bee also commented on the way that social media algorithms manipulate users