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TV - Feb 28, 2018

How close are we to a Black Mirror reality? Pretty close.

Four episodes of Netflix’s too-close-to-home series that are probably closer to real life than you think

In "Metalhead," a woman is hunted by robotic dogs in post-apocalyptic times.

Life imitating art or art imitating life? It’s both with the riveting and often gob-smacking anthology series Black Mirror, a modern-day Twilight Zone showcasing disturbing yet thought-provoking ways that technology can turn against us – or what happens when it’s taken too far.

With 19 head-turning standalone episodes across four seasons, the “out there” situations are frightening but closer to reality than we think. Here are four of the freakiest. (Note: spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the series yet.)

Robot dogs gone bad

In the episode “Metalhead” (Season 4), a woman living in what seems to be post-apocalyptic times is hunted by robotic dogs that have taken over society, viciously killing anyone in their path. They aren’t adorable like Sony’s Aibo, so you’re probably safe bringing that cutie home.

But did you know these terrifying, knife-wielding dog-borgs were, in fact, inspired by robotic K-9s currently in development by engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics? Have you seen these videos? They’re terrifying. Sure, a robotic dog with impressive speed and dexterity is promising for the future of tech. That is, until its bite becomes bigger than its bark.

Remember that time when...

In “The Entire History of You” (Season 1), implants record what you do, see and hear so you can play back memories, good and bad, from any point in your life. Sound crazy? Mayfield Robotics’ home robot AI named Kuri cutely follows you around and automatically records and captures moments it deems worthy for posterity. Aww.

But going a step further, wearables like Snap! Inc.’s Spectacles sunglasses capture your life in 10-second intervals for playback, sharing and storage for a unique first-person perspective. A step further still is a patent Samsung filed in 2016 for a contact lens with sensors and a camera that can project images directly to the user’s eyes.

The virtual “you”

How much of “you” can be discerned from your online activity? In “Be Right Back,” (Season 2), a woman grieving the death of her boyfriend (played by Star Wars’ General Hux himself, Domhnall Gleeson) uses technology to communicate with an artificial-intelligence version of him. Is it “him”? His voice, likes/dislikes and even personality are duplicated based on information data mined from his online presence. If you’re on social media, your data is already being mined for things like targeted advertising. And thousands of posts, and inquiries and conversations with AI like Google and Alexa could theoretically lead to the creation of a virtual “you.”

But this is old news for Hanson Robotics (makers of the now famous Sophia) , which built and programmed the creepy BINA48 bust robot from more than a hundred hours of “memories, feelings and beliefs” of the inventor’s wife. Ask it questions, interact with it and it responses are based on those traits. Shudder.

How many likes?

Taking our obsession with social media and online ranking further, “Nosedive” (Season 3), starring Bryce Dallas-Howard, extends your status to everyday life. Every person with whom you interact – the guy serving you coffee, the random person you bump into on the street – “rates” you with a simple swipe of a device. Your overall score, in turn, impacts your career, social status, even desired living quarters. Think of it like search engine rankings but for humans.

Uber already does a version of this – you rank the service of a driver and they, in turn, rank you as a passenger – with the info informing each of their decisions to pick-up or order, respectively. But the Chinese government is reportedly taking it to the next level with plans to build an “omnipotent ‘social credit’ system” that gives each citizen a number that ranks their trustworthiness. By 2020, they plan to have everyone enrolled in a database that uses everything from fiscal information and traffic violations to compile their number. It’s enough to drive you mad. Just ask Bryce.