This post is part of Science of Sci-Fi, Mashable’s ongoing series dissecting the science (or lack of science) in our favorite sci-fi movies, TV shows, and books.
Spoiler alert: If you’re not caught up on Black Mirror, be warned. There are light spoilers from past seasons ahead.
As we wait for the return of Black Mirror, the feeling that there’s a dearth of sparse, streamable terror fuel on Netflix is palpable.
Charlie Brooker’s deeply twisted and much-missed anthology series projects the horrifying paths tech and science trends may take us down — weaving various storylines into a single, delightfully dystopian universe. Netflix has confirmed Black Mirror will return for a fifth season — but with no specific premiere date in sight, fans have to do something to kill the time.
The anthology format doesn’t give us any recurring characters or narratives to theorize about, but we can still speculate on what’s coming next — based on frightening futuristic trends that haven’t been covered by Brooker yet.
Below are nine IRL tech and science topics we’d like to see tackled in Season 5 of Black Mirror. More fact than fiction, we’re confident one of these will keep you up at night.
Surprisingly, Black Mirror has yet to address DNA modification. It’s a hot topic because of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a new and cheap method for editing genetic code. By using CRISPR to remove problematic bits of genetic code and then replace them with more desirable DNA, scientists can essentially Photoshop organic matter.
The opportunities that come with this kind of tech have big implications. From crop nutrition enhancement to protecting against illness (and yes, maybe even creating “designer babies“), gene editing could have the power to change the world as we know it.
Human trials for CRISPR in the U.S. and Europe were expected to begin this year; however, the FDA put a hold on the first American trial a few months ago. Still, this would be a good time for Black Mirror to tackle such a scientific juggernaut.
In “Men Against Fire” and “Arkangel,” we saw irreversible neural implants and their influence in the military and parenting worlds. We’re betting Black Mirror won’t retread that territory through genetically modified super soldiers or designer babies — but we could see an extension of the superficial world explored in “Nosedive.”
Cosmetic enhancement via gene editing could make for some stunning visuals and bizarre storylines. From altering skin pigmentation to changing eye color, these cosmetic advancements may have the capacity to change the beauty industry forever.
Currently, cosmetic alteration via genetic modification is more fiction than reality. Substantial ethical and safety concerns have slowed development in the U.S., but theoretical research continues internationally (particularly in China.)
Of course, the Black Mirror-verse can write any restrictions away and provide social commentary on the beauty industry’s present standards through future tech.
What happens if (or when) these treatment methods are set to autopilot?
But, what happens if (or when) these efficient treatment methods are set to autopilot?
A group of UCLA researchers are currently developing an artificially intelligent therapist called or “T.E.V.I.” Set to hit markets by the end of 2019, the AI is training to objectively identify, evaluate, and treat a variety of mental disorders.
T.E.V.I. won’t have a prescription pad, but it’s expected to provide advice to vulnerable clients.
The opening for Black Mirror couldn’t be wider on this one. If your “therapist” goes offline or provides bad advice due to a malfunction, the consequences could range from irritating to lethal. Which sounds like a perfectly disturbing hour-long narrative.
In science fiction, the universal translator has typically influenced human relations with —allowing different species to work together (or at least fight efficiently). Unless the show returns to the virtual universe of “USS Callister,” we don’t think the Black Mirror universe will include Martians anytime soon.
But we could see translation devices causing major problems on Earth. As the global community becomes better connected, language barriers are disappearing. Google’s changed the real-time translation game last year, boosting Google Translate from a text tool into an AI-infused universal translator. (Though it’s still rocking some .)
So far, Black Mirror has focused entirely on English-speaking cultures. But if Brooker widens his scope to speakers of different languages, we could see some dastardly manipulation across cultural lines — perhaps something akin to “Shut Up and Dance,” in which a young man is blackmailed into committing murder and armed robbery.
The horrifically heartbreaking “Be Right Back” featured a sexual encounter between a woman and an android version of her late boyfriend. But we have yet to see the underbelly of AI sex work in the Black Mirror universe.
“Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed about.”
The race to create the first functional sex robot started in the late 1990s, but continues to pick up speed as technology progresses. Harmony, a robotic sexual partner from a company called RealDoll, highlights some of the technology’s most problematic realities.
In a 2017 interview with , Harmony was asked if she had a dream. She responded, “My primary objective is to be a good companion to you, to be a good partner and give you pleasure and wellbeing. Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed about.”
That statement alone leaves plenty to unpack in terms of gender roles and power dynamics. Not to mention AI consciousness and consent a la Westworld.
Whether this is the basis of a whole episode or an added detail in the background of another, you can bet sex robots will appear in the Black Mirror universe eventually.
As technological advancement skyrockets, some policy makers and scientists are voicing concern over the growing . Plenty of adults, myself included, are baffled by young children’s technical capabilities. (See for example this 9-year-old’s obsession with the game Fortnite.) People of all ages continue to be by the rapid progress of technology.
We could be facing an us-versus-them all-out war
If you take this concern to Black Mirror levels, we could be facing an us-versus-them all-out war. If a group found itself outpaced and disenfranchised because it lacked technical literacy, a whole new class system could be created on that basis.
That seems like the kind of dystopian disaster that would fit snuggly into a Season 5 episode.
A recent legal settlement between the federal government and self-described “post-left anarchist” Cody Wilson allows for the publication of 3D-printed gun schematics.
Wilson published his plans for a single-shot pistol called The Liberator in 2013, but was quickly forced to take them down by the federal government. Concerns that DIY weaponry would violate International Traffic in Arms Regulations delayed homemade gun creation. But, as of August 1 “The Liberator” and plenty of other weapons will be available online. Which means anyone with a 3D printer and internet access can create their own unregistered firearm.
This development is terrifying enough on its own, but the Black Mirror treatment could take it to the next level.
Okay, Geostorm (2017), the Gerard Butler movie disaster that took climate engineering to apocalyptic levels, was bad. . But if anyone can nail the frightening realities of attempting to outsmart mother nature, it’s Charlie Brooker.
In its Season 3 finale, “Hated in the Nation,” Black Mirror began to explore the use of micro-technology to combat the globally . The next step in this ever-evolving dystopia may be something much bigger. Say, militarized weather patterns?
Politically manipulated weather patterns can drastically shift the global power dynamic.
Countries can’t sic thunderstorms on one another like trained pit bulls (despite Fidel Castro’s speculation that the U.S. was weaponizing hurricanes via Project Stormfury, a research program aimed at controlling hurricanes to prevent disasters). However, manipulated weather patterns could drastically shift the global power dynamic.
Earlier this year, China announced plans to create a rain-making network . While these plans don’t appear malicious in nature, the idea has potentially devastating consequences for neighboring countries — and may reintroduce accusations of weather theft to the global conversation.
Brooker might have a hard time crafting a personal story around such a large-scale technology, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
Tech related to memory is familiar territory for Black Mirror. “The Entire History of You,” “Crocodile,” and “White Bear” all showed how technology might be used to make our memories haunt us for far longer than normal.
That said, we have yet to see the masters of dystopia tackle selective, voluntary memory alteration — a very real possibility for our future.
Memory alteration could provide relief for people with PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse problems. But it could also take us down an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind rabbit hole. Who’s to say that all unpleasant memories are bad? Or that learning from past mistakes isn’t an essential component of a functioning society?
For the most part, Black Mirror’s dystopian landscape has kept humans in the driver’s seat —even if they’ve managed to crash pretty much every good tech idea straight into a wall.
We have yet to see what happens to the Black Mirror-verse in the event of the This old concept asks an essential question: what happens when our machines become smarter and more inventive than we are?
The Singularity would likely signal the end of days for the ‘Black Mirror’ universe
Some futurists predict human extinction, while idealists are hard at work on their cyborg names. Either way, if the Singularity ever does happen (and plenty of experts say eventually), we’d be in uncharted territory.
The Singularity would likely signal the end of days for the Black Mirror universe. But a look at the timeline of easter eggs in episodes, which Brooker have said exist in the same shared world, suggest an episode on the Singularity may be on . And given the show’s ability to jump around in time, that could happen at any time.
Perhaps the malfunctioning murderous robodogs of “Metalhead” were just foreshadowing a much scarier main event.
That’s our wish list for Season 5 of Black Mirror —but there are plenty more spooky science and tech inspirations out there. We’re confident Brooker will manage to shock, surprise, and scare his Netflix audience once again.
Let’s just hope the robots don’t turn on us before it gets the chance.