Black Mirror explores futuristic technology and science, anticipating how it would be a misfit with different aspects of our culture. It provides an eye-opening opportunity, to channelize our debate of ethics and boundaries constructively, and to reserve our scientific innovation for “needful” situations only, until we are ready. It depicts biotechnology and AI in applications such as neural implants, DNA digital scanners, drone insects, and brain scanners.
Mining the horror of helicopter parenting, in one episode (Arkangel), they use microchip neural implants to monitor their child’s vision and hearing. This was further augmented by facilities like viewing live medical data, censoring visuals based on hormone levels and accessing past audiovisual feed. Yet another episode uses memory implants as a recorder of every memory you have, cataloguing it in order to reinforce positive thoughts every time you encounter anxious situations. As uncanny as these applications sound, it isn’t unrealistic. Brain-computer interface technology has fascinated the Silicon Valley a long while ago, with BrainGate programme being one of the many upcoming innovations. This multi-institutional collaborative effort developed a novel neurotechnology for reviving communication, mobility and self-dependency in people with paralysis, and other neurodegenerative diseases. While we are a long way off from such devices being injected into humans, microrobotics is currently being employed in single use applications to treat diseases.
Cloning for layman has often been synonymous to genetics and biotechnology, but what about digital cloning? It is a machine like an advanced biometric DNA virtual cloning device that scans a sample of one’s DNA to create a virtual replica of their consciousness (aka cookie). This application is used in the show for criminal investigation, robotic friendship and communication with the dead after placing their consciousness in someone else. Yet again, digital cloning is an emerging technology and indeed much simpler than biological cloning. Deep learning algorithms to create memory and personality clones is happening around us.
“Hated in the Nation” is an episode that introduces autonomous drone insects created to deal with the upcoming extinction of bees. They help in pollination of flowers as a replacement to real life insects. These solar powered drones are self-replicating with 3-d bioprinters installed in their “hives”, enabling them to multiply faster than real-life bees. While the episode paints a story of misuse of this technology by adding tracking and facial recognition features in it, this innovation has also taken its first step. Robobees have in-fact been created and are used in crop pollination, search and rescue missions, surveillance, as well as high-resolution weather, climate, and environmental monitoring. Inspired by the biology of a fly, it uses microelectromechanical technology to achieve the abovementioned goals.
While we aren’t as technologically advanced as Black Mirror suggests, these situations aren’t an impossible sci-fi plot either. It is important we set ground-rules for AI-biotechnological innovations now. More importantly, being from a community of innovators it becomes our ethical responsibility to distinguish between need and urgency. Have you watched Black Mirror yet?