20 Times This Show Perfectly Predicted Our Future Years Before It Happened

Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology series, fiendishly explores the dark side of our modern obsession with technology. Over the years, it has become such a cultural touchstone that many social media users compared life today to be like living through an episode of the show. Most spooky of all, though, is the way that the series has predicted many technologies and real-life events years in advance. Seriously – it’s uncanny. Here are 20 of the most prescient examples.

20. Autonomous Drone Insects

“Hated In The Nation” is set in a near-future world in which climate change has caused the near extinction of bees. The U.K. government has therefore backed the creation of Autonomous Drone Insects to continue pollination. These artificial bees are then hacked and used to murder the recipients of the “#DeathTo” hashtag. Yikes!

While robot bees killing people may sound like a crazy concept on paper, the idea of drone insects has actually been reflected in real life since the episode aired. The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan is home to a program creating small robotic drones that are used to dispense pollen. Let’s just hope these ones can’t be hacked.

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19. Social media’s effect on mental health

In “Nosedive,” Bryce Dallas Howard played a woman trying to navigate her way through a world in which social media ratings are used as currency. People rated each other on a scale of one to five for each interaction in their lives, and it directly affected how much money they made and where they lived. As the episode progressed, and she received more and more low ratings, her mental health suffered drastically.

In 2018 a survey found that 41 percent of Generation Z members left social media as it made them feel depressed, anxious, or sad. The idea of deriving self-worth from other people’s ratings is also dangerous, as it is, “placing our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control,” according to author of When Likes Aren’t Enough, Dr. Tim Bono.

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18. A.I. creates a virtual clone from social media data

The episode Be Right Back posited a world in which a woman could bring her dead boyfriend back to “life” by interacting with the artificial intelligence imitating him. It used his social media data and internet communications to create the virtual clone. Eventually, it even extended to an android version of the husband. The episode first aired in 2013.

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Only six years later, a real-life social media network that promised “eternal life” was unveiled. The network, named ETER9, was in beta test mode, but allowed signups. The idea was that a user would be paired with a “counterpart” – effectively an AI imitation of their profile that would learn how to post like them. It would theoretically then pose as the user, posting messages even while the user was asleep. Which is kind of creepy.

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17. Digital currency used in freemium games

In 2016 Slashfilm writer Jacob Hall wrote about how, over time, one Black Mirror episode has become a commentary on the rise of “freemium” culture. Hall wrote, “When I think about ‘Fifteen Million Merits,’ I think about how we’ve decided microtransactions are okay and how insane that is. At some point, we decided that paying a little extra to skip an advertisement or make a digital avatar look a little cooler is perfectly fine.”

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Hall continued, “’Fifteen Million Merits,’ the first great episode of Black Mirror, takes the world of YouTube and mobile gaming and pushes it to hellish extremes, presenting a future world where money simultaneously means nothing and everything…” The impressive thing is that the show saw all this coming. After all, when the episode aired in 2011, “freemium” culture was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is today.

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16. Human batteries

In July 2012 the Associated Press wrote about an eco-friendly program being run in a prison in Brazil. In exchange for a reduction in their sentences, prisoners could choose to pedal on stationary cycles connected to car batteries. Once the batteries were charged by the electricity generated from the prisoner’s efforts, 10 street lamps in a town close to the prison would light up.

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But Black Mirror had arguably predicted this very scenario in “Fifteen Million Merits,” in 2011. The society in the episode is entirely powered by people cycling on exercise bikes in order to earn “merits.” The idea of an entire ecosystem being powered like this is probably science-fiction, but reality has shown it can at least be used to illuminate some streetlamps.

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15. Contact lenses that capture our lives on film

For the third and final episode of Black Mirror season one, Succession creator Jesse Armstrong penned “The Entire History of You.” The episode followed a lawyer named Liam who slowly drove himself insane by constantly re-watching his memories, thanks to a new technology known as “grain.” The visual of Liam’s pupils changing color as he re-lived his experiences in his own eyes was extremely arresting.

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Five years after the episode aired, Inverse published an article about Samsung being awarded a patent for contact lenses that took a photograph whenever the wearer blinked. In theory, the lenses would be connected to a smartphone, which would receive a livestream feed of everything the user saw. Hell, the title of the article even noted how similar it sounded to Black Mirror.

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14. The ability to record and immediately play back anything in our lives

The driving force of “The Entire History of You” episode is Liam’s obsession with exposing an infidelity he believes his wife committed. To do this, he replays their conversations over and over again with his “grain” tech. He is ultimately proven correct, but it’s still easy to see how this could be a dangerous technology in the real world. Imagine having the ability to re-watch, study and even re-contextualize exact conversations at will.

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In 2015 a Kickstarter campaign for a wristband device named Kapture raised over $160,000. The selling point was that the gizmo would always be recording, and it featured in-built speakers for conversations to immediately be played back. These days the Kapture Audio website is down, and it doesn’t seem like the product made it to market. Perhaps that was for the best given what happened to Liam in Black Mirror.

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13. Cancel culture

The 2016 feature-length episode “Hated In The Nation” dealt with the terrifying hashtag “#DeathTo.” It was a way to incite the public into killing the person whose name was trending alongside it. In fact, there was a new name every day associated with the hashtag and it led to murders, including that of a journalist who made a disparaging comment about a disability activist.

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According to Dictonary.com, “Cancel culture refers to the public practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The concept of “Hated In The Nation” is an exaggerated version of this, in which literal death can result from saying the wrong thing. But the episode still appeared to predict how such a culture would become controversial in modern times.

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12. Virtual crowds

The second episode of Black Mirror was entitled “Fifteen Million Merits,” and it aired in 2011. It told the story of a society in which humans cycled in order to earn “merits,” which paid for everything in their daily lives. Their one communal ray of hope, though, was the One Shot talent show. And it’s here that the show spookily predicted something that would become commonplace nearly a decade down the line.

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One Shot made striking use of a virtual crowd composed of bit-mojis, instead of a live audience. This would of course become de rigueur in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on people attending events with large crowds. Everything from NBA games to WWE events to America’s Got Talent made use of virtual crowds to try and inject some atmosphere into otherwise empty arenas.

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11. Social media addiction

First aired in 2013, “White Bear” was an early warning about the unhealthy attachment many of us have to our smartphones. The hopelessly addicted populace watch everything through their phone screens, failing to look away even when dangerous and gruesome things are happening around them. It’s almost like they are hypnotized by the eerie glow of their device screens.

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Nowadays we all spend far too long looking at our phones. That much is obvious. But the idea of being so entranced by them that we ignore danger around us is also depressingly real. For example, in 2016 two men in San Diego fell off a cliff while trying to locate virtual characters in Pokémon Go. A man in Melbourne also crashed his car into a portable school building while playing the smartphone game.

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10. Virtual avatars

In 2017 Apple revealed an interesting capability in their new iPhone X. The phone’s “TrueDepth” camera could use facial recognition technology to help the user create their own “Animoji.” This was a cartoon avatar that could display whatever expression the user wanted. The official Black Mirror Twitter account soon pointed out a similarity to an episode from 2013.

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In “The Waldo Moment,” an unsuccessful comedian became a political figurehead for the United Kingdom by using similar technology to create an animated avatar for himself named Waldo. Amusingly, show creator Charlie Brooker even tweeted about the Animoji. He wrote, “If Apple really is using Black Mirror as inspiration for future products, I think we’re all in trouble when season four launches.”

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9. Digitally blocking or removing people from our lives

The “White Christmas” episode features a character wearing contact lenses that allow them to “block” someone from their lives. In the show, it is a woman who decides to block her ex-husband from seeing herself and their daughter. This is visualized as the ex-wife and daughter becoming bleary outlines filled with static, along with unintelligible voices, when the man looks at them.

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In real life, the “block” function is a regular part of everyday social media life at this point. It’s certainly handy if you want to avoid engaging with certain people or trolls, but there is also the potential for it being used in a malicious way. Plus there’s software out there that allows you to digitally remove things, including people, from photographs. Black Mirror extrapolated this idea brilliantly.

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8. Online hackers blackmailing people with personal data

The 2016 episode “Shut Up and Dance” is one of a small number of Black Mirror installments that doesn’t include any science-fiction elements. Instead, it is a ripped-from-the-headlines story of hackers blackmailing people with incriminating images and video captured by webcam. Indeed, as far back as 2013, it was claimed the FBI had the ability to surreptitiously watch people through their webcams.

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But what the episode did predict was the rise in young men and women being specifically targeted for blackmail by cyber criminals from the darkweb. Rather than risk footage or pictures of their intimate acts being released on social media, these victims were paying the demanded ransoms. And this brand of hacking became so prevalent that in 2018 Daily Mail Online published an article warning the public about it.

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7. Autonomous delivery vehicles

“Crocodile” was first released on December 29, 2017 and barely a few weeks later an element of the episode was reflected in real life. A self-driving pizza van was an integral part of unravelling the central murder mystery in the episode, which also involved memory reading technology. Extremely dark story notwithstanding, the idea of an autonomous vehicle solely with the purpose of delivering pizza charmed audiences.

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This is why social media was all abuzz when, less than two weeks after the episode dropped on Netflix, Pizza Hut made a shocking announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show. That’s right, you guessed it. The company had partnered with Toyota to design the first ever driverless delivery vehicle. Brilliantly, the official Black Mirror Twitter account replied with, “We know how this goes.”

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6. Virtual reality games reacting to a user’s body chemistry

Of all the Black Mirror episodes, “Playtest” is undoubtedly the most frightening. It follows a thrill-seeking backpacker named Cooper who takes a job playtesting a Virtual Reality survival horror game for a mysterious company named SaitoGemu. The game customizes its experience for each user, making them live out their greatest fears. Let’s just say Cooper doesn’t get off lightly in this regard.

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“Playtest” first hit Netflix on October 21, 2016. By that point, some video game companies had begun to experiment using biometrics to customize their games. But in 2018 a developer named Keith Makse took it to the next level with his horror game Bring To Light. It analyzed its players’ heartbeats to find out what was scaring them and then adjusted the game accordingly. Sounds fun. Not.

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5. Technology that replicates pain in real life

In “Black Museum” Dr. Peter Dawson is implanted with an experimental device that allows him to feel the physical pain of anyone wearing a corresponding hairnet. He hopes that if he knows the exact sensations of certain ailments and diseases, he will become an expert in diagnosing them. Naturally, though, because this is Black Mirror, it all descends into tech addiction and murder.

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This idea of being able to “feel” virtual pain was a key part of NullSpace VR’s Kickstarter campaign for the Hardlight VR Suit. This was to be a haptic jacket filled with sensors that would be used for gaming. As the project page boasted, “Feel when you’ve been hit, shot, knocked, or touched.” Ultimately, the company ran out of money and the project was never fulfilled. But the idea was super similar to Black Mirror.

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4. A.I. being used to “live forever”

“San Junipero” is one of the most acclaimed episodes of Black Mirror. It won two Emmy Awards and was widely praised for its poignant depiction of a same-sex romance. The story followed young lovers Yorkie and Kelly, who were revealed to be the digital minds of two older women uploaded to a shared server after their death.

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The notion of human consciousness being uploaded to a computer server after the body dies has precedence in real life. In 2016 Russian millionaire Dmitry Itskov told the BBC that he had this exact ambition. The tech pioneer said, “Within the next 30 years, I am going to make sure that we can all live forever.” He ultimately wanted to upload a human mind to a computer, before transferring it to a new body.

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3. The creation of digital copies of people

In the brilliant “U.S.S. Callister” Black Mirror explored ideas of toxic masculinity and workplace bullying, all wrapped up in a brightly colored Star Trek-inspired sci-fi world. It showed how vengeful programmer Robert Daly was able to create digital clones of his co-workers that he could psychologically torture within a virtual world. All he needed was a sample of their DNA.

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The ability to create an exact digital copy of a person that can both think and feel is pure science-fiction, of course. But in real life a Canadian company began work on a project to clone people’s voices in 2017. Lyrebird boasted that it could create the most realistic artificial voices the world had ever heard, and all they needed to accomplish this was a one-minute sample of someone’s voice.

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2. A social media rating-system for people

The idea of a world in which every one of us is ranked out of five on a social media platform is not only the concept behind “Nosedive.” Because it’s also something that nearly became reality. In 2015 the Peeple app was unveiled, and it immediately caused a firestorm of controversy. It was advertised as, “Yelp for people” and was to give users the ability to assign humans star ratings.

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The public was not happy, naturally, with the moral implications of such an app. The Washington Post wrote, “Where once you may have viewed a date or a teacher conference as a private encounter, Peeple transforms it into a radically public performance. Everything you do can be judged, publicized, or recorded.” Unsurprisingly, the star system was removed when the app launched in 2016.

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1. Real-time video animations

“Men Against Fire” is an uncompromising episode that posits a world in which the military is able to alter what their soldiers see to make them better killing machines. An implant known as a “mass” changes enemy combatants and begging civilians alike into terrifying zombie creatures known as “roaches.” This therefore completely takes away any remorse or hesitation a soldier may have about going in for the kill.

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In our world, face swapping technology has been getting more and more seamless over the years. In 2016 a project known as “Face2Face” was run by Stanford University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics. The project was about manipulating the face of someone in a video clip using real-time facial capture. The results were unnervingly lifelike. Perhaps scary tech like the “mass” isn’t as far off as we want to believe?

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