A CLOUD of artificially intelligent insect drones buzzes past your window as you check your personal rating on social media, before plugging yourself into a virtual world to escape from it all.
But this isn’t a Black Mirror crossover episode, this is present-day planet Earth.
Black Mirror, the largely dystopian Netflix series about technology gone wrong, paints a bleak picture of a terrifying future which always seems to be just around the corner.
The show is so gripping that creator Charlie Brooker recently claimed an Emmy for season four’s USS Callister episode – a creepy take on immersive gaming inspired by the Star Trek universe.
For Brooker, it’s all about showing what happens when the lines between the digital world and reality are so blurred that they seem to disappear entirely, bringing us nightmarish action and exploring some truly disturbing themes.
Watching a particularly dark episode, you might comfort yourself with the knowledge that the show is set in the future… but the uncomfortable truth is that most of the terrifying tech we see on screen is already a bit too real.
Just this week videos of spindly legged robo-dogs opening doors appeared, bearing an alarming resemblance those that roam the post-apocalyptic landscape in one of the episodes.
But this is just the latest example of the real world becoming muddied with elements of science fiction: From augmented super-soldiers to a messaging app which lets you talk to the dead, these are the clues we’re already living in Black Mirror.
March of the robot dogs
Black Mirror’s fourth season includes a chilling, colourless instalment called Metalhead.
We learn in the arty episode that the title refers to the robotic “dogs” that relentlessly hunt the few human survivors and kill them for no apparent reason.
Don’t panic – you don’t have to worry about an AI poodle taking a chunk out of you any time soon, but writers have confirmed that the killer dogs in Black Mirror were inspired by real-life robots at Boston Dynamics.
Engineers there have already created a sinister robot “dog” which can bound up hills, right itself when it falls over… and even open doors. Gulp.
Bee afraid. Bee very afraid
Season three’s finale, Hated In The Nation, depicts a near-future Britain where crops and flowers are pollinated by bee-like drones, since the real insects have largely died out (a fate they are also threatened with in real life).
‘Come off it Charlie’, we all thought when the episode aired in 2016 . That’s a bit far fetched isn’t it?
Well, strap yourselves in, because bee drones have since taken to the skies.
Robotics companies all over the world have showcased drones designed to pollinate plants, while the US military has also revealed a less friendly kind of wasp-sized bot which hunts in swarms and could eventually be used to carry out assassinations.
One powerful Black Mirror episode, Nosedive, explores a future where people use their phones to rate each other on every aspect of their lives – giving you a number out of five which sums up how much people like you.
High ratings will help you move in trendier circles and get by easier in life, while low ratings can leave you locked out of polite society entirely.
Sounds ridiculous, right? It’s really not. Check your Uber account and you’ll find you already have a star rating out of five which sums up how good a passenger you are – and affects how willing drivers will be to pick you up…
In The Entire History Of You, we’re shown a world where people can record, and then play back, everything they see and hear thanks to an implant in their heads.
Yeah, as if, we all thought at the time, but eerily similar tech has come on in leaps and bounds in the years since the episode came out.
We may not have microchips in our skulls just yet, but kit like the Google Glass and Snap Spectacles can log everything you’re looking at while you’re out and about – handy for answering the question of whether the girl in Costa really was checking you out when you get back home.
Rest In Peace
Black Mirror’s Be Right Back tells the story of a grieving woman who brings a digital copy of her dead boyfriend back to life.
It made for traumatic TV, and most of us will have switched off after the episode with a feeling of relief that it’s all made up.
But how wrong we were: it turns out that the macabre tech she uses, a chatbot which downloads the deceased’s message history to learn how they would have talked, is totally real.
You can already find online “griefbots” which let you have text conversations with your dead loved ones, mimicking the things they would have said to make it feel like they’re chatting from beyond the grave.
Beware the Hackmailers
Shut Up And Dance, one of the few Black Mirror episodes set in the present, follows a teenager who is blackmailed into increasingly extreme situations by hackers who’ve used his webcam to record him doing something very private.
It’s probably no surprise to hear that this happens often enough already – and there have been countless real-life cases where people’s webcams have been remotely hacked to create leverage for conmen and blackmailers.
But, unlike most Black Mirror dilemmas, this one does have a simple solution: cover your webcam whenever you aren’t using it.
Judged on its merits
Bleak episode Fifteen Million Merits shows a world where people earn the local currency by peddling on power-generating exercise bikes.
After a hard day of pedalling, people go back to their rooms, essentially boxes with computer screens on every wall, where they are subjected to streams of adverts which can only be avoided by paying to skip them.
It sounds hellish, right? Well, you may be unsettled to learn that it was based on a very real phenomenon.
No, the sinister real-world inspo isn’t the exercise bikes; social commentators have suggested that the episode parallels trends in free-to-play videogames, where players can earn in-game currency by watching adverts, and only skip them by paying.
Men Against Fire shows an army of super-soldiers with augmented reality implants, making them more effective killers and removing all the remorse from war.
Back here, over on Earth in 2018, we’ve got real high-tech kit which makes soldiers more effective in combat, including strength-boosting exoskeletons with artificial-intelligence built in.
The use of augmented reality on the battlefield wouldn’t be much of a leap from here – leaving us with the slick killers we see in one of Black Mirror’s darkest ever episodes.
Lots of what we’ve seen in Black Mirror is based on high-end tech which is either around at the moment or which is thought to be just around the corner.
Plenty of episodes focus on virtual reality and ultra-immersive gaming, where you can insert yourself into a computer-generated world which seems so real you’ll forget it isn’t.
This tech is starting to emerge now, with VR gaming headsets making it possible to live another life at the push of a button.
Further automation, like the self-driving pizza delivery van in Crocodile, is also starting to take off, and upcoming advances will only build on the robot tech which sometimes makes an appearance in Black Mirror and other sci-fi shows.
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Many tech buffs will tell you that artificial intelligence is the next big thing, but this comes with its own unique risks – even bleaker than the horror storylines we’ve seen on TV.
Professor Stephen Hawking and SpaceX genius Elon Musk are among the experts warning that AI could wipe humans off the face of the earth, although others, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are more optimistic about our chances.
Either way, it’s probably best to keep an eye on those door-opening robot dogs just in case, right?