How CES 2023 killed my fear of the Techpocalypse
It’s the last day of CES, which means that in addition to the unveiling of massive televisions, incredibly thin laptops and shape changing screensthe consumer tech world is also abuzz about the likelihood – and dystopian consequences — of some of the wackiermore futuristic vaporware introduced.
The eternal question, at least for a few years: does the CES bring the horrors of black mirror live?
January 2018 was the month when Google searches for “black mirror” peaked. Netflix had just released season 4. CES followed a few days later. (And, just to say, Google would drop its unofficial “don’t be mean” motto a few months later.) Since then, on the announcement of nearly every advancement in facial recognition, every weird new bot, every data biometric vampire, the specter of Black Mirror enters the chat. In fact, the first time I saw a video of Spot the robot dogI thought with dread, Has anyone learned the lesson from episode 5 of season 4?
So many revelations at CES that year and since have seemed shimmer episodes of the anthology series that it might make even more sense, given the average time to market, that Charlie Booker, the show’s creator and frequent writer, actually trolled the floor himself. from CES to intrigue. Example: I would eventually discover that the robotic watchdogs from the Metalhead episode were actually inspired by Boston Dynamics – a company that was once owned by “don’t be mean” Google because of course it was.
My two cents: What does this chicken-and-egg situation even matter, when we have the Terminator itself ironically speaking out on the CES stage?
A toilet sensor that reads your pee for health indicators? A self-contained baby stroller? A BMW that… wants to be your friend? The hottest CES products tend to run the gamut from “the solution to finding a problem” (I’m looking at you, color changing party fridge) to the “omen of the techpocalypse”. (Remember when Samsung has created a “new form of life”?) And while the gadgets and gadgets unveiled at CES 2023 might give some people, like my colleague Ian Sherr, nightmaresI sleep pretty well, according to my Fitbit.
Its good. Everything is fine
The canonical one-line summary of Black Mirror, devoted to pixels in 2015 by The Toast writer Daniel M. Lavery, is “what if phones, but too many”. As a true iconoclast, my retort is simple: “What if the phones, but NOTHING? Everything is fine!” The year 2018 was half a decade ago; proclaiming “It’s like an episode of Black Mirror!” is so five years ago. Being evil is in it! Technology is scary, but it’s also exciting. He solves problems that no one has ever encounteredbut it also aims on real issues. Its good. Everything is fine.
Call me naive, but all this hand wringing about the dangers of AI and self-driving cars seems in good company with the Old Man Yells at Cloud meme.
Yes I know the bike that powers your laptop is lit-ruh-ly the premise of the show’s second episode. But converting the kinetic energy produced by our drive into device charge is a far cry from the forced labor of Black Mirror. The thing about dystopian narratives — or any narrative, really — they’re all about escalating tension. And I don’t believe real-world product development actually adheres to Freytag’s pyramid.
Is this lady protesting too much? Definitely not! Probably not. May be? But living in this hyper-connected world of incredibly rapid change does something for the human brain, whose natural responses seem to be limited to either surrendering to fear or burying its head in the sand. I can’t tell if I’m laughing so as not to cry or if I’m the emoji who cries from laughing. Or the upside-down smiley face emoji? Maybe someone is chopping onions here.
There are not too many devices connected to the Internet. Seriously, what’s one more? More the merrier, the merrier. Climb here.
Are we making our own way to hell with each year’s crop of “innovation”? Not possible, because we already know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions or adverbs, not the Internet of Things.
To quote Kevin McCallister, I’m not afraid anymore.
Charlie Booker announced in 2020 that he wouldn’t work on another season of Black Mirror because life was starting to imitate art a little too much. Two years later, however, whispers of a sixth season started circulating. I welcome the return of the third-best sci-fi anthology show with the same tired nod I give at CES: Of course, I’ll watch. Because why bother shouting into the void, or shaking off your first cloud, when everyone is carrying noise canceling headphones and VR headsets anyway?
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