Skip to main content

“Black Mirror” reveals our fear of robots and algorithms we can’t control

by Murtaza Hussain

There’s no real plot in the “Metalhead” episode in the new season of “Black Mirror.” The star of the episode is a small, uncommunicative black robot that walks on all fours and is armed with a pistol stored in its front leg. Who controls the robot, if anyone, is never divulged. The four-legged mechanical creature operates seemingly on its own and for its own purposes. Over the course of the 40-minute episode, it hunts down a woman desperately fleeing through a forest, as she tries in vain to evade its sensors.

For those unfamiliar with the show, “Black Mirror” is a science fiction series on Netflix about a near-future in which new technologies reap terrible unintended consequences on our lives; they strip away personal independence, undermining our societal values and sometimes letting loose uncontrollable violence. As terrifying as they are, the technologies depicted in the show are not outlandish. Like the autonomous robot in “Metalhead,” they reflect easily conceivable, near-term advances upon currently existing technologies, such as drones.

Since the first detonations of atomic bombs in the 20th century, pop culture has been morbidly fascinated by the realization that humanity has developed tools powerful enough to destroy itself. But the malign technologies depicted in “Black Mirror” are more subtle than nuclear weapons. Most of the show’s episodes deal with advances in robotics, surveillance, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence – fields that happen to be key areas for tech companies in the real world. The creators of the series demonstrate how, left unchecked, the internal logic of these new technologies can bring about the destruction of their owners.

Black Mirror’s” slick production values and acting have won wide critical acclaim. But its social commentary also seems to have struck a nerve with a public that has begun evincing confusion, fear, and alienation over the consequences of new consumer technologies. A 2015 study by Chapman University found that three out of five of the top fears Americans have were related to the consequences of emerging technologies. The potential of automation to wipe out millions of U.S. jobs and artificial intelligence’s potential to undermine democracy have been well-documented. But the phenomena of livestreamed murders, online terrorist recruitment, and social media threats of nuclear apocalypse have helped create an environment of increasing pessimism.

It’s worth reflecting on how we got to this point.

In 1992, before the spread of the internet, American cultural critic Neil Postman wrote a short book, titled “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.” Postman argued that our modern idea of technology was becoming dangerously warped. Instead of developing new technologies to achieve acknowledged public goals, we had begun to take technological advance as an end unto itself. Without a strong cultural and political context to determine what should be invented and why, we risked undermining both our civic culture and our democracy in the face of powerful new technologies that operated according to their own logic. Rather than creating inventions to fulfill our needs, Postman warned that we might soon begin adapting ourselves to meet the needs of our inventions.

Black Mirror” depicts a nightmare version of Postman’s prediction. Technologies like virtual reality and social network rankings – blindly adopted in the belief that they will make life better – gradually become vehicles for authoritarian social control, and even the enslavement of their owners. The show reflects a growing trend in popular culture. In recent years, other science fiction series like “Westworld” and “H+” have also focused on the dark side of emerging technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence. In his recent book, “Why Liberalism Failed,” Notre Dame political science professor Patrick Deneen made this suggestion:

           Most examples of this recent genre seem to reflect a widespread foreboding about a shared sense of powerlessness, and even the potential for a new kind of bondage to the very technology that is supposed to liberate us. These movies and programs portray how, in our optimistic and even hubristic belief that our technology will usher in a new age of freedom, we discover in various ways that we are subjects to those very technologies. Far from controlling our technology for our own betterment, we find that the technology ends up either ruling or destroying us.

The powerlessness many people feel in the face of new technologies may have something to do with the undemocratic nature of their development. People naturally fear what they depend on but have no understanding or control over. In the last 10 to 15 years, many long-held social and political norms have been washed away by technologies that have helped contribute to a crisis of faith in American democracy. Silicon Valley companies have been remarkably opaque about the future implications of their research and development programs, which, among other things, many Americans plausibly believe will lead to the loss of their jobs.

When major tech executives do speak up, they often make disturbing statements about the looming death of cherished public norms like personal privacy. In a 2010 interview, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that “the days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” declaring further that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Even if the most dire warnings about rogue artificial intelligence programs destroying humanity never come to pass, we have already sacrificed much of our personal autonomy to technologies whose underlying philosophies were unclear when they were introduced to the public. There is a growing backlash to this kind of corporate authoritarianism. Calls to break up tech companies under federal antitrust laws are increasing, while disillusioned former Silicon Valley executives have become increasingly vocal about the negative social side effects of the programs they helped develop. Technological utopianism is slowly giving way to an acknowledgement that technologies aren’t value-neutral, and it’s the role of a functioning society to govern how they are utilized.

The robot in the “Metalhead” episode of “Black Mirror” was inspired by an actual robot developed by the engineering firm Boston Dynamics. Named the SpotMini, the device is described by its creators as a “nimble robot that handles objects, climbs stairs, and will operate in offices, homes and outdoors.” A video of the SpotMini walking around, doing household tasks and righting itself after a fall is posted on the company website. Unlike its evil twin in “Metalhead,” the robot in Boston Dynamics’s promotional videos seems helpful, even friendly.

It’d be nice to imagine a future in which robots like the SpotMini are used to help us around the house, rather than hunt down and kill our fellow humans as they flee in terror. If the nightmare future depicted in shows like “Black Mirror” can be avoided, it will only come by asserting public oversight of the Silicon Valley companies whose policies are dictating the future shape of our societies — as well as our personal lives.

Source, links:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Κυβέρνηση Σαμαρά: Πιο νεοφιλελεύθερη και από την Τρόικα!

Ο πρόεδρος της επιτροπής για θέματα ανταγωνισμού του Επαγγελματικού Επιμελητηρίου Αθηνών, Γιώργος Φλωράς, αποκάλυψε στην εκπομπή του δημοσιογράφου, Νίκου Χατζηνικολάου, ότι η έκθεση του ΟΟΣΑ, με βάση την οποία συντάχθηκε το τελευταίο πολυνομοσχέδιο, είναι ουσιαστικά δημιούργημα του ΙΟΒΕ!
Ανέφερε χαρακτηριστικά ότι:
Οι προτάσεις αυτές δεν είναι του ΟΟΣΑ, αλλά του ΙΟΒΕ και της Επιτροπής Ανταγωνισμού, δηλαδή κυρίως των Χατζηδάκη και Στουρνάρα και ότι η κυβέρνηση στην ουσία χρησιμοποιεί την Τρόικα για να περνάει τις θέσεις των πολυεθνικών, μεγάλων αλυσίδων σούπερ μάρκετ, κ.λ.π.
Ο κ. Χατζηδάκης, τονίζει συνεχώς σε ότι έλεγε ότι 'εμείς χρησιμοποιήσαμε τον ΟΟΣΑ γιατί είναι αντικειμενικός, έχει την αξιοπιστία, έχει τη διεθνή εμπειρία κ.τ.λ.' και γι'αυτό βγήκε και ένα κονδύλι 936.000 ευρώ για να γίνει αυτή η έκθεση. Η έκθεση ξεκινάει αναφέροντας στη σελ. 2 ότι οι θέσεις μέσα σ'αυτή δεν εκφράζουν απαραίτητα τον οργανισμό.
Η έκθεση αυτή δεν είναι του ΟΟΣΑ, είναι μια οργανωμένη απάτ…

It seems that Bernie Sanders got it all wrong again, this time regarding the situation in Venezuela - very disappointing

globinfo freexchange
In an unfortunate series of tweets regarding the situation in Venezuela, Bernie Sanders exposed his weak spot again on foreign policy matters.
Sanders tweeted:
The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent. The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating. 1/3 — Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 24, 2019
The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. 2/3 — Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 24, 2019
But we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil & the DR. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin Amer…

Canada has been trying to destabilize Venezuela at least since 2004

globinfo freexchange
Paul Jay, editor in chief at The Real News, gave some very interesting information - some based on personal experience - about Canada's total alignment with the US on its imperialist missions against Venezuela and other countries:
Mexico was part of the Lima Group, but now with the new leadership - with AMLO now taking office in Mexico - Mexico is not going along with this plan to recognize Juan Guaido. And Mexico is not the only country of the region. Many, many countries of CARICOM have come forward and have said they do not support this plan. So, the corporate media is trying to make this sound like the whole region is on board with this scheme.
For months, Canada has been playing a leading role in preparing for - according to the Canadian newspapers - for exactly what happened, the recognition of Juan Guaido.
And Canada has been into this scheme for months. And the rationale is supposedly that the election of 2017 was not a legitimate election because people w…

Former Pentagon official confirms: Trump prepares for war with Iran

globinfo freexchange
Right after Trump's sudden announcement that he will withdraw the US forces from Syria, we had some mixed reactions. Some liberals reacted angrily, but most of the reactions from the liberal machine were rather moderate, or at least not as intensive as someone would normally expect.
On the other hand, Trump's supporters and all those who had enough of the pro-war neoliberal establishment, felt a kind of vindication, as it appeared that Trump would eventually keep its promise for an 'anti-interventionist' policy.
But the blog wrote immediately a 'not so fast' article to explain that most of the Americans and all those who are tired of the US endless wars, should not rush to celebrate. We estimated that Trump's move is probably a sign that he is going to re-organize troops and go after the big target called Iran.
Indeed, shortly after the move, Trump, suddenly again, announced that he will also pullout troops from Afghanistan.
And then, about…

When Venezuela's state-owned Citgo was aiding poor Americans with a 'fuel for heating systems' program

globinfo freexchange
A report from 2011 proves that the Venezuelan government designed a special program to aid the poorest US citizens overcome funding difficulties to heat their homes, through Citgo Petroleum Corporation, subsidiary of the state-run company PDVSA.
Citgo's heating fuel program began in 2005 after the passing of the hurricanes Rita and Katrina, but it didn't stop there. It continued uninterrupted for several years under Hugo Chávez' administration:
For seventh year in a row, the CITGO Petroleum Corporation (or CITGO), subsidiary of the state-run company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), will aid poor communities of the United States (US) with a program of fuel for heating systems.
CITGO president Alejandro Granado, through a press released in the website of Venezuela's embassy to the United States, said the increasing costs of energy continue affecting the quality of life of millions of US citizens and community organizations in that …

Pompeo's special tweet potentially indirect threat against those who won't follow the orders on Venezuela

globinfo freexchange
After John Bolton indirectly threatened Venezuela with that 'accidental' revelation of about 5,000 US troops to be sent to Colombia, it was Mike Pompeo's turn.
In a peculiar tweet, the other major Trump warhawk essentially sent a clear message to those countries (mostly under the US influence) that refused to recognize Washington's puppet, Juan Guaidó, as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
Pompeo named one by one the countries that obeyed to Washington's orders: “We applaud Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden & UK for supporting Venezuelan people by recognizing @jguaido today as Interim President.
And then he placed a map, colouring the obeyed countries and the US with the same intense color.
We applaud Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvi…

#HandsOffVenezuela: Brave Italians show us the path of resistance against the European branch of the neoliberal beast

globinfo freexchange
According to RT, Italy vetoed EU recognition of Venezuelan opposition leader Guaido. As RT reported:
Rome has effectively derailed an EU statement meant to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader if President Nicolas Maduro fails to set up snap elections, a Five Star Movement source confirmed to RT.
Italy announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on January 31 in Romania, the source said. The statement, which was supposed to be delivered by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini recognized Guaido as interim president if snap elections were not held.
The European Parliament is the first European body to recognize Guaido “as the only legitimate interim president of the country until new free, transparent and credible presidential elections can be called in order to restore democracy.
The parliament urged the EU to follow suit but the effort stalled due to internal discord.…

Government shutdown, Venezuela: Donald Trump evolves into the best propagator of neoliberal fascism that tends to become a norm

by system failure
Even before the 2016 US presidential election, this blog supported that Donald Trump is a pure sample of neoliberal barbarism. Many almost laughed at this perception because Trump was being already promoted, more or less, as the 'terminator' of the neoliberal establishment. And many people, especially in the US, tired from the economic disasters, the growing inequality and the endless wars, were anxious to believe that this was indeed his special mission.
Right after the elections, we supported that the US establishment gave a brilliant performance by putting its reserve, Donald Trump, in power, against the only candidate that the same establishment identified as a real threat: Bernie Sanders.
Then, Trump sent the first shock wave to his supporters by literally hiring the Goldman Sachs banksters to run the economy. And right after that, he signed for more deregulation in favor of the Wall Street mafia that ruined the economy in 2008.
In 2017, Trump bombed Syria f…

Mass protests in Haiti, like France’s Yellow Vests, threaten modern oligarchic structure

Throughout recent Latin American history, it is hard to find a country that has been as thoroughly manipulated and plundered by the United States as Haiti has.
After over a century of U.S. intervention — from the 19-year-long U.S. military occupation that began in 1915 to the 2010 election rigged by the Hillary Clinton-run State Department — Haiti has become the ultimate neoliberal experiment that has forced its people to live in conditions so horrible that rivers of sewage often run through the city streets.
Even Haiti’s own president, Jovenel Moise — who has presided over the most recent phase of U.S.-backed plunder — recently called the entire country a “latrine.”
Yet — much as in 1791, when Haiti was the site of the first successful slave revolt in the Americas — today the people of Haiti seem to have finally had enough of being slaves in all but name and are taking to the streets en masse in an effort to end the rule of the Haitian Bald-Headed Party (PHTK), the U.S.-backed politica…

EU parliament drops final leaf, recognizes Washington's puppet Juan Guaido in Venezuela

globinfo freexchange
The European branch of the global neoliberal fascism did what was expected: obey to the orders of the US imperialist empire and recognize Washington's puppet Juan Guaido as the 'legitimate' president of Venezuela.
As Al Jazeera reported:
The European Parliament has recognised Venezuela's self-declared interim president Juan Guaido as de facto head of state, heightening international pressure on the OPEC member's socialist President Nicolas Maduro. EU politicians voted 429 in favour to 104 against, with 88 abstentions, at a special session in Brussels on Thursday to recognise Guaido as interim leader.
Meanwhile, the EU parliament wouldn't even think to 'dare' to challenge the legitimacy of Emmanuel Macron in France, even with all these people protesting in the streets. At the same time, the establishment media try to direct the public attention from the Yellow Vest movement towards the situation in Venezuela.
It doesn't matter that N…