‘Poisonous’ smart speaker to star in Black Mirror season five
It was only a matter of time before "Black Mirror" tackled the smart speaker and voice assistant.
The dystopian anthology series created by Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones has a habit of taking everyday tech products like smartphones and social media, then extrapolating their effects on society to the highest degree.
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With phones, robots, virtual reality gaming, social media and Tinder-style dating apps covered by previous episodes, it shouldn't be too surprising to see a smart speaker with Alexa-style artificial intelligence appear in the new trailer for season five, which premieres on Netflix on June 5.
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The speaker, installed in the bedroom of a lonely teenage girl, features moving arms, a rotating waist, illuminated eyes, and pink hair — the latter of which could be related to pop star Miley Cyrus, who makes an appearance during the trailer with similar hair. However, it isn't clear for now if the smart speaker and Cyrus are part of the same episode.
After claiming she doesn't have any friends, the teenager is told by her smart speaker, located in the bedroom, that she "looks incredible" while trying on makeup. Later in the trailer, a character says of the smart speaker: "It's not a doll, that thing is poison." The device at first appears friendly, with bright, wide eyes, but is later seen plugged into a computer in a dimly-lit room, with four red lights illuminated across its face, giving an altogether more sinister look.
Of course, voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant lend themselves to the themes of "Black Mirror" — especially when they mistakenly record private conversations then send them to a friend, or are caught constantly listening in the owner's bathroom. Even when not faulty, the speakers save everything they hear to the servers of Amazon and Google, prompting privacy concerns from their owners.
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What's particularly interesting is how the smart speaker created by "Black Mirror" is able to rotate, move its arms, and show a degree of emotion with its light-up eyes. This "Black Mirror" episode comes just weeks after an Amazon Alexa engineer suggested that, to improve, the virtual assistant could have eyes and the ability to move.
Rohit Prasad, head scientist of the Alexa artificial intelligence group at Amazon, said in March: "The only way to make smart assistants really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world."
This made us think of the Anki Vector, a robot which can drive itself around, see through a camera, recognize you and react to your presence, and has Alexa integrated alongside its own personality. Unfortunately Anki is going out of business, putting the future of Vector in doubt. Alexa is already not working on the robot.
Of course, the cute Vector with its Pixar-inspired animations is a world away from where "Black Mirror" will undoubtedly take its smart speaker. We suspect the product will begin as a teenager's dream toy, complete with advanced artificial intelligence that at first makes it seem like a fun and helpful companion, but which will slowly turn into a nightmare, as is the "Black Mirror" way.
As for the rest of the trailer, smartphones and their constant beeping notifications make an appearance, along with a Tinder-style dating app playing havoc with a relationship, and virtual reality taking players into a different world, for better or for worse. All this plays out to the appropriate soundtrack of Love Supreme's "Lonely Feeling."
Season five will contain just three episodes, but these are likely to be between 60 and 90 minutes each, and come soon after the one-off special "Bandersnatch", which debuted Netflix's new choose-your-own-story format.
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