People Are Seeing Terrifying ‘Black Mirror’ Parallels In Cutting Edge Technology That Makes Prisoners Think They’re Serving 1,000-Year Sentences

Maybe the most terrifying idea ever introduced on Black Mirror, that grim sci-fi anthology show about evil tech that’s almost certainly right around the corner, is the “cookie,” a digital clone shown in their pitch black holiday special entitled “White Christmas.” They’re copies of people who are 100% sure they’re the real person, not a clone. And they’re invariably tortured by non-clones. At one point a cookie made from a to-be-convicted murderer is trapped in a small cabin and forced to experience time at 1,000 years per minute, for days on end.

Anyway, good news, everybody! A slim variation on the Black Mirror “cookie” might become real. In a new piece in Aeon magazine (as caught by Insider), a philosopher, Dr. Rebecca Roache, speaks about overseeing a team examining ways technology could transform punishment. One idea they’ve come up with is using biotechnology to trick the mind into thinking they’re serving a 1,000-year sentence in an afternoon.

“There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence,” Dr. Roache tells the publication.

That seems…not humane? Surely no therapist on earth would be equipped to deal with someone convinced they’ve just spent over 12 times an average lifespan in what sounds like a form of solitary confinement. (Incidentally, the title of the Aeon article is “Hell on Earth.”)

But there’s more! The team has another idea involving uploading minds to computers, which is even more Black Mirroresque. Dr. Roache writes on her blog:

“If the speed-up were a factor of a million, a millennium of thinking would be accomplished in eight and a half hours… Uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours. This would, obviously, be much cheaper for the taxpayer than extending criminals’ lifespans to enable them to serve 1,000 years in real time.”

Cruel and thrifty! Dr. Roache tried to spin it as a positive by asking tough questions about our current system of punishment, which is also barbarous and also not very effective:

“To me, these questions about technology are interesting because they force us to rethink the truisms we currently hold about punishment. When we ask ourselves whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone, we have to make sure it’s not just the unfamiliarity that spooks us,” Dr Roache said.

“Is it really OK to lock someone up for the best part of the only life they will ever have, or might it be more humane to tinker with their brains and set them free? When we ask that question, the goal isn’t simply to imagine a bunch of futuristic punishments – the goal is to look at today’s punishments through the lens of the future.”

These are interesting ideas, well worth discussing. But people couldn’t get past how Black Mirror-y it was.

And just to stress this point, if people are comparing your idea to Black Mirror, it’s probably one worth ditching.

(Via Aeon and Insider)