Future of technology: Will the plots of “Black Mirror” soon be our reality?

By Becky Lawlor

A mother sitting on a park bench looking at a tablet.

In the latest season of “Black Mirror,” show creator and writer, Charlie Brooker, once again gives his audience a peek at what the “dark” future of technology might look like. From parenting surveillance systems to highly advanced dating apps, there’s enough real-world tech embedded in each episode to lend a hint of truth (and terror) to the science fiction of it all.

In “Arkangel,” the second episode of season four, the mother of a young girl implants a surveillance chip into her daughter so she can track her if she gets lost. The implant, when connected to an app on a tablet, allows the mother to track not just her daughter’s every move, but her every view — literally showing the mother on the tablet’s screen what her daughter is seeing. The implant also monitors her daughter’s vitals, tracks her location and censors inappropriate or frightening images with a filter so that violent or distressing images become fuzzy and muted.

Wearable apps or implated chips: What’s the difference?

While the technology to transfer a human’s visual data onto our mobile devices doesn’t exist (yet?), there are enough analogies that hit home with today’s technology to raise concerns about where mobile surveillance tech might be headed.

For starters, the wearable device market is exploding, with wearable technology for children gaining significant popularity. It’s expected that smartwatches for children will represent 30 percent of the total smartwatch units shipped by 2021, according to TechCrunch.

In addition to being able to monitor the location of their children or their health vitals, wearable and mobile devices can be equipped with a number of apps that let parents monitor and control their children’s devices. Filtering capabilities also exist within apps like SafeSurf, Net Nanny or Google’s Family Link to let parents filter what their kids see online.

Pets, employees… why not children?

Another hint at where the future of technology might be going is in the similarities between RFID chips and the implant the daughter receives. Today, most household pets are microchipped so they can be tracked if they run away or get lost. The debate continues whether this same technology should be used in children to track their whereabouts.

Some humans already have microchips implanted in them. At the Swedish startup Epicenter, employees can choose to have a chip implanted that will let them open doors, operate printers, or buy snacks. According to the Los Angeles Times, 150 employees already have the microchips.

However, just like in “Black Mirror,” the collection of the data from these microchip implants could be abused. Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, notes in the Times article that there is a risk of hackers being able to gain a large amount of information from embedded microchips.

“Conceptually, you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that,” said Libberton.

Are we too addicted to our devices?

Perhaps even more disturbing than the questions raised in this episode about how we might apply technology in the future, is the mother’s need to constantly monitor her daughter. Does this mirror our own needs to constantly check our mobile devices?

Ultimately, her inability to stop constantly checking in, while well-intentioned, leads her to lose her daughter for good. It’s a dark reminder that there’s more to life than what’s on our devices.

Written By

Becky Lawlor

Technology Writer

Becky Lawlor is a freelance technology writer specializing in mobility, cloud computing, unified communications and collaboration solutions. She develops and writes content that helps technology buyers understand and evaluate technology solutions, modernize their IT infrastructure…

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