The British SF anthology show Black Mirror had a Christmas special this year called "White Christmas", starring Jon Hamm (Bridesmaids, The Town). I suspect the episode is partially inspired by A.J. Jacobs' Operation: Cyrano from his Esquire magazine article, but maybe the idea is just obvious. Namely Jon Hamm plays a man whose hobby is coaching men on seduction in realtime via a POV feed from the augmented reality modifications everyone in the future has. His day job is breaking in digital personal assistants.

Black Mirror, like the best tv and movie SF, does a good job of synthesizing ideas from SF literature into a new story. The bulk of the plot in "White Christmas" depends on two ideas: augmented reality and virtual reality torture.

Augmented reality is portrayed as ubiquitous via a technology called "Z-Eye" implants; the terminology reminds me of the "Z-Spec" from Wil McCarthy's grey-goo novel Bloom (though his grey goo is more like rainbow mushrooms). A commonly used feature of the Z-Eye is to block a person like on social media, but in the realworld. The blocked person and the block then appear as white blurs with muffled, distorted voices to each other. It's treatment of augmented reality reminds me of Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell. Based on the usage in "White Christmas" the augmented reality must be via some sort of implant that interrupts the audio and visual senses and Ragamuffin was similar. In Ragamuffin this was used to cloak enemies from someone with the implants by editing them out. Someone's vision could be manipulated such that they might walk into traffic. Given the sort of malignant behavior we see from black-hat types I'd be wary of any augmented reality system that did not have a hard, manual shut down just for safety's sake. If we're going to interfere with basic functions that much, I think some sort of nictitating membrane with implants doped for up/down conversion luminescence would be preferable. But arguably, "White Christmas" is just trying to pose the question of what if we could block people in the same way as social media?

"White Christmas" also had a segment with Hamm and Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones). Chaplin portrays an uploaded consciousness tortured by Hamm's character via sensory deprivation at an accelerated timescale. It reminded me of a tamer version of Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon where the standard procedure for blacksite interrogations is the use of digital rape rooms. Altered Carbon and its sequels are pretty consistent in presenting the future as a technological hellhole in the corporate oligarchy tradition.

Overall, I enjoyed "White Christmas". A lot of Black Mirror episodes have struggled to hold my attention and some Black Mirror episodes - particularly the episode "Fifteen Million Merits" - are summed up by Tim Cavanaugh's opinion of V for Vendetta:: "It sets up a situation nobody could ever agree with, then dares to disagree with it.".

To the extent that the augmented reality seems forced on people, "White Christmas" falls into that category.

Spoilers: The augmented reality is used to block a nominal dad from his child (no legal recourse there?) and to mass block and mark out sex criminals. There are already problems with our current trend that everything remotely regarded as a sex crime gets someone on a list; making it impossible to talk to anyone just seems absurd and harkens back to the Roman practice of denying the banished fire and water. In the real world these lists produce hobo camps of sexual predators living under overpasses and I can't imagine a digital branding that completely isolates them would be any better. Even worse is that the police make a digital copy of a suspect's consciousness, then interrogate it under false (virtual) pretenses before proceeding to torture it for millennia without a trial. I hope we have the imagination in the future to see interrogating digital doubles as a violation of the right to remain silent and digital torture without trial as being outside due process, even for digital consciousnesses. Though Black Mirror is a British show and one never knows when the UK might do away with some basic protection.

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