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Smart Home (Karin’s Apartment):
- Timestamps: 00:00, 05:00
- Description: Her apartment features a keypad lock on the front door, lights that turn on as she walks by, and a remote control that can open the blinds as well as turn on other off-screen devices.
- Category: Existing, perhaps as of the last few years especially.
- Realistic: Some of this tech exists today and is making its way into the home. For example, this NYTimes article covers some of the ways the items Karin does in her apartment can be done and more (like voice assistants, or using your phone instead of a remote). I think the big difference expressed in the show is that the attitude towards it is so ubiquitous. Karin treats it all like routine, but today it’s still pretty rare/exciting to see someone’s home like that. Shortly later in the episode we see Jo’s apartment has security cameras - something that is certainly growing popular today with common appliances like the Nest camera.
Driverless, Electric Cars (NCA vehicle, Blue):
- Timestamps: 11:00 & 43:00
- Description: Blue makes an early remark on how she doesn’t have a license, so she’s waiting for “driverless to go mainstream.” Additionally, all cars in the show are heard making that signature electric vehicle hum (perhaps to an exaggerated extent) - suggesting they may have replaced gas powered vehicles. Finally, the NCA agent’s car (Li) is capable of opening its door with a remote; there’s no drivers seat; the four seats face one another inside (and swivel); and there is a large touch screen interface in the center that can control a variety of things about the car - in addition to turning every light in between the car and its destination green.
- Category: Some parts are current, others fictional or in progress. For example, driverless vehicles are in progress from Uber, Google, and Tesla (to name a few). Electric vehicles have been around for a while, since the Chevy Volt in 2010. But neither solutions go to the extremes the NCA car can.
- Realistic? Driverless cars from Tesla, Uber, and Google have hit the streets and are clocking hours practicing. They aren’t fictional, but they certainly aren’t mainstream (as Blue would suggest). What’s not so realistic is the pervasiveness of electric vehicles in the show and the extreme extents taken by the NCA car.
Ars Technica reports 200,000 electric vehicles were sold in 2017… while 17 million cars were sold overall. We still have a while to go from where Black Mirror sees yet.
Concept cars have shown features similar to the NCA one such as the steering wheel-less approach, swivel chairs, and touch controls; but these are only concepts. The closest thing we have to what the NCA car could do is the ability to “change” lights between the car and its destination. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles, for example, are able to change lights with a pre-emption device when responding to problems.
- Timestamps: 19:30, 35:00, & 43:00
- Description: Karin and Blue have distinctively different phones. Karin’s is an older looking, big bezeled, “bulkier” phone. Blue’s is a near bezel-less, solid metal, large screened device (whose screen also happens to be transparent). Both devices happen to be on a 4G connection, and Blue uses a bluetooth dongle. At one point, Blue swaps phone numbers by touching screens with someone else.
- Category: Existing, almost antiquated except for blue’s phone which is a bit more fictional.
- Realistic? Karin’s cellphone is pretty much any device from the mid-2000s, with nothing that stuck out in particular. The true points of interest is that their cellular technology is still 4G in the near future (not even LTE), whereas 5G is already entering testing in New York and Salt Lake City. Given they envisioned a see through cellphone, its surprising they saw no future version of cellular network - a minor detail. Additionally, the idea of touching phones to swap contacts was something tried with NFC 5 years prior to this movie, but never really caught on. NFC payment technology is somewhat gaining traction with Apple Pay or Android Pay, but even then Goldman Sachs found adoption was underwhelming with < 10% adopting it. Bluetooth ear pieces, such as the one used by Blue, aren’t quite as common today as they may have been in the 2000s, but they remain existent today. Finally, the transparent display envisioned in Black Mirror has been something underworks for quite some time, but have yet to gain traction. Samsung attempted the monitor in 2012, Panasonic revealing another in 2016. The technology has potential applications at retail locations, but its still quite a ways off from where the show sees it due to costs or not being needed.
Transparent and Touch Laptop
- Timestamp: 41:00 among others
- Description: Blue’s laptop has a transparent display (akin to the smartphone discussion), as well as a completely touch capacitive keyboard.
- Categories: Existing / Upcoming
- Realistic? Touch capacitive buttons are not new, this sample toy product from 2014 or select laptops with touch capacitive function keys can show this. What’s upcoming about the technology, however, is its usage for the entire keyboard in a manner that looks adaptable. A patent this year was filed by Apple for a technology very similar to this. It could be very possible laptops soon have this style keyboard, but for the time being, the implementation seen in Black mirror remains fiction.
Autonomous Drone Insects
- Timestamps: Throughout, but 29:00 mostly.
- Description: Drones the size of insects that are fully robotic, autonomous, and capable of pollinating flowers. They have the ability to build hives to replicate themselves, power themselves fully from solar, and contain rudimentary vision / pattern recognition.
- Category: In Research / Fictional
- Realistic? This is still far from where we are now. In 2017 the smallest drone made was a Dragonfly augmented with circuitry to create a cyborg drone. Some drones developed at Harvard can get as small as a penny, but lack the capabilities as seen in Black Mirror. The size of the drone is what’s holding back this technology the most compared to as it is portrayed in the movie, as we’ve seen how drones can do what was shown in the movie. For example, the way they can work in unison to hold a shape was recently demonstrated at the South Korean Olympic Opening Ceremony.
- Timestamps: 19:30 & 41:00
- Description: In the episode Karin and Blue take advantage of a Citizen Database that knows mostly anything they need about their people, even including their roommates cellphone number or the approximate location of any person at any given time. They’re even able to look up someone on their cellphone.
- Categories: Similar / Fictional
- Realistic? There exists extensive databases today that could be considered close toa national record of every citizen of the country. For example, Estonia has a huge undertaking turning all their government services digital - even including the concept of citizenship. India’s citizen database aadhaar serves as an identifying system for people of the country. As such these systems could be seen as similar to what is seen in Black Mirror. The deviation, however, is in how extreme the version in the episode portrays - tracking each citizens positions independently. While it is possible for emergency services to locate a caller from their cellular signal, keeping this within a readily accessible database is not quite there yet.
- Timestamp: 74:00
- Description: Blue’s USB in the final moments is capable of connecting between computers using a purely magnetic interface. She uses this to transfer code from Rasmus’ laptop to hers.
- Category: Similar
- Realistic? Magnetic power connections were actually a feature of Apple’s Macbook that was killed off in their more recent models circa the time of this episode. MagSafe was arguably one of the more favorable features of the MacBook, since it saved the device from being tripped over/ripped off tables. Why it hasn’t made a return yet is a mystery, but needless to say, others have tried to replace them. Extending this to other connections such as USB may not be all that impossible.
Big Brother is Watching
- Timestamps: 46:00 & 55:00
- Description: Several times throughout the episode we see security cameras take the highlight of the screen. There’s the one that catches Tusk smoking, another over Jo’s door, the one over Clara’s Apartment, and of course the several hundred thousand ADIs. At one point Blue accuses Li of over government surveilling - through CCTV and the Traffic Cams.
- Category: Existing
- Realistic? Most of the surveilling we see today comes in the form of CCTV and Traffic Cams. An article posted by the BBC a few years prior to this episode discussed the rise of CCTV usage in America - and that only 40% approved adding even more to our streets. It’s not outlandish to think the Government has access to all of these, with other far more reaching programs known to exist such as PRISM.
- Timestamp: 11:00
- Description: While driving Blue home, Karin uses an electronic cigarette. Blue, who doesn’t like the concept, rolls down her window in response.
- Category: Existing
- Realistic? The portrayal is fairly true to reality. Electronic cigarettes do produce harmful secondhand gases, much like their non-electronic counterparts do, as found in a study by the CDC. Blue rolling down her window in response to the usage was very much the right response. Additionally, it’s not unfair to say the usage of eCigarettes is out of place: the surgeon general found more than a third of young adults have tried eCigarettes. The only thing thats out of place with this representation, is that Karin is never seen again using it. Typically these devices retain their addictive nicotine components. Given the situation Karin finds herself in, however, it may just be that she doesn’t have the time for another break.
GeoTagging from Photos
- Timestamp: 70:00
- Description: The only way the team was able to discover Garrett’s location (and subsequently the means to realize the national disaster) was through a rogue photo embedded in Garrett’s Manifesto PDF. Blue is able to use the metadata from this image to figure out where it was taken, and from that, determine where Garrett’s hideout was.
- Category: Existing, and very plausible
- Realistic? It’s fairly well known that images do store additional metadata, often referred to as EXIF. Norton antivirus, for example, even has a blog post on how to remove some of the more revealing pieces of data tracked with images - such as location. What really was questionable was whether or not an image stores its metadata within a PDF document. PDFs are a container format, which support the possibility - however images would be considered a special case where they typically are stored in their raw form (to be reconstructed by the PDF viewer). The spec, however, indicates that in PDFs over version 1.4 can include metadata streams (see 14.3.2), which for images (section 8.9) is included as part of their embedding. So it is very much possible Blue was able to extract metadata information for an image from within a PDF document.
ADI Connection Pad
- Timestamp: 60:00
- Description: At her lab, Blue was able to connect to an ADI drone directly using a light up pad connected to her computer. With the drone placed ontop of it, it paired to her computer and she was able to access its filesystem.
- Category: Existing? Fictional?
- Realistic: While the protocol for ADI connections is not excplicitly stated, it could be assumed Bluetooth is being used (given the common phrasing “pairing devices” was seen on her laptop). Its a little disturbing how her seemingly generic pad is able to pair right with the ADI (the ADI not rejecting the connection). As the National Insitute of Standards and Technology suggests, however, the connection between devices are secured - not necessarily who begins the pairing process. It may just be plausible Blue could use this generic device to make a connection. It is also possible to assume the device was specialized to ADIs, and Rasmus provided it to her for diagnosing the drone. It’s unclear where this device sits within the realm of possibilities, but if it is a non-specific connection device it’s a bit over the top to have a dedicated pad for Bluetooth when most laptops today have it built right in, or a simple dongle to enable it. Why the need for all the bulk?
- Timestamp: Throughout
- Description: The use of Twitter as a means of attacking people is a focus in the episode. Garrett Scholes was motivated to take the actions he did when a coworker attempted suicide after facing severe backlash on social media. He invites Twitter users to vote on an unpopular figure to “execute”. After the “game” becomes publically apparent, there is a montage of media figures debating how social media users should approach the “game” - who is culpable (i.e. are you responsible for your actions on Twitter), should people participate, how to make your vote “count”.
- Category: Twitter exists, to our knowledge death votes on Twitter do not
- Realistic: Twitter is a large scene for cyberbullying, with one researcher find 15,000 bullying related tweets sent each day. While, to our knowledge, there are no online “death votes”, cyberbullying has led children to self harm in increasing numbers. The episode uses an extreme example to get the audience questioning our actions and the actions of others on social media.