VOX questions human interaction via Black Mirror episode

The debate platform, VOX Delft, gives a sinister slant to Christmas by organising a discussion night about the Black Mirror Christmas Special: White Christmas last Tuesday.

Is cyber ostracism justified? This was just one of the questions mentioned at the VOX evening last Tuesday.

In the cold Hive room in the corner of the Library, a group of ten interested people (students, PhDs, professors and teachers) gathers to watch the Black Mirror Christmas Special. The British TV show questions the dark side of life and technology. In its Christmas Special, three scenarios come together in a 1.5 hour episode. 

Would you like to have a coach in your head to help you with dating, or a job interview?

In the first scenario, an insecure guy is on a date with a girl. To build up his self-confidence, he turns to a coach called Matt. Matt sits at home and watches a livestream through the guy’s eyes while feeding him tips through his ears. This way, he can find out about the girl, for example google where she works. While the guy is on the date, Matt livestreams the evening on the internet, where a bunch of guys are watching what is happening.

Would you watch it?

Of course, some of the viewers say. Of course not, says someone else. But how is this different from a reality show on television? For example, Utopia, where anyone can watch a group of people making a living 24 hours a day. Or all the vloggers on YouTube that show their lives, from unboxing an iPhone to breaking up a relationship?

This egg hosts the copy of someones consciousness.

The story continues. Coaching was just one of Matt’s hobbies. His real job is installing cookies. A cookie is a bean-size chip that is installed in someone’s brain to create a copy of the person’s consciousness. The chips are placed in an egg-shaped device to act as a personal assistant and to run their smart houses so that, for example, they can wake up to their favourite music and toast made just the way they like it. Matt’s job is to break the willpower of the chip to become emotionless performers: you don’t want your computer to have its own will, do you? He breaks the willpower by fast-forwarding time in the egg: making the chip experience six months of nothingness, complete isolation and boredom.

Would you want a cookie yourself? And is the fast-forwarding torture, or can artificial intelligence not feel hurt?

The opinions are again divided. It would be great to have a cookie to do your mindless jobs, but it would be better to present the whole idea more positively, someone states. The best slave is the one that wants you to succeed. This raises the question whether a computer is a slave. When does it feel pain? Or when does it have consciousness? And, what is consciousness? And at what point does artificial intelligence deserve rights?

When someone blocks you, you can only see the silhouette of the person.

The third and last scenario is about blocking people. In this future (or parallel universe according to some), people have a Z-Eye implanted. The Z-Eye captures everything you see, can take pictures and videos and stream them. You can also use the eye to block people. When you block someone, you only see their silhouette and only hear a mumbling sound when they speak. It can also be used as a punishment: if you are a criminal you can be blocked in red, and you then can’t see anyone.

Is it ethical to allow people to block each other?

It is a big punishment. You can even feel physical pain if you are excluded from society. But wouldn’t it be handy if you can just block someone who is screaming in your face? And are we not already doing it on Facebook, where we have the option to ignore someone with just one click? How would it be if two politicians blocked each other and could not see or hear each other? The people in the room imagine new suburbs where red criminals could make a living without seeing each other but make the best of it.

The whole episode questions what communication means to us and how we relate to one another. It states that we need our friends and family, and we need personal contact, because exclusion and loneliness is harder than anything else. But it says it in a Black Mirror way, which will give you nightmares and stick in your head for days. Merry Christmas!

VOX holds discussion evenings Every Tuesday from 19:00 to 22:30 in the Library. It will host more Black Mirror evenings in the future as well. Want to join? Join the Facebook Group to find all the updates. 

Roos van Tongeren / Redacteur

Redacteur Redactie

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