Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker says AI is just “pretending to be something it isn’t capable of being”

Salma Hayek in Black Mirror season 6. Image courtesy Netflix
Salma Hayek in Black Mirror season 6. Image courtesy Netflix /

The fight against AI in entertainment is an ongoing battle that likely won’t come to an end anytime soon. It’s one of those cases of being unable to put the genie back into the bottle. It’s doubtful we’ll ever get rid of artificial intelligence now, but we can learn how to manage it and create laws around its regulation.

The usage of AI is a big sticking point in the SAG-AFTRA strike and the recently resolved WGA strike. Actors, writers, and artists in general are afraid of corporations replacing them with AI to save money. It’s the conflation of artistry as mere “content” rather than actual craft.

How can something artificial truly emulate the human experience? In short: it can’t. All AI does is swallow summaries and then regurgitate them into something similar, but not wholly original. At least one Netflix creator definitely agrees with that assertion, and if you’ve watched his show, you know why.

Many of the situations cropping up in the news circuit these days feel like storylines pulled straight from the sharply satirical British series Black Mirror from creator Charlie Brooker. It’s scary how many things that happened on the show are now becoming reality.

Studios are tricking extras into giving up their digital likeness forever. They want actors to agree to having themselves digitally scanned to be used in perpetuity. You can imagine why that would be a bad thing, especially as deep fakes become increasingly more realistic. Black Mirror season 6 episode “Joan is Awful” tackles this possibility headfirst.

It’s pretending to be something it isn’t capable of being.

Charlie Brooker doesn’t appear as worried about AI, at least from a writing perspective, after experimenting with it firsthand. He recently attended a convention in Sydney, Australia and got to talking about AI, per The Guardian.

He mentioned testing ChatGPT, asking it to write an outline of a Black Mirror episode and while, at first, he felt terrified of the possibility of something like this replacing him, to the point he joked he wanted to “jump out the f*cking window,” once he read the script, he relaxed a little.

"“Then as it carries on you go, ‘Oh this is boring. I was frightened a sec ago, now I’m bored because this is so derivative.’ It’s just emulating something. It’s Hoovered up every description of every Black Mirror episode, presumably from Wikipedia and other things that people have written, and it’s just sort of vomiting that back at me. It’s pretending to be something it isn’t capable of being.”"

Ultimately, the one thing Brooker thinks humans have definitively over AI is their ability to be “messy,” and he can’t see artificial intelligence replicating that in an authentic way.

Charlie Brooker refutes claims that Black Mirror has lost its edge

Another discussion Brooker mentioned during the SXSW panel is the criticism being tossed around that Black Mirror isn’t as edgy as it used to be, that being on Netflix and littered with big-name actors might have caused the show to get a little toothless.

To that I say, did you not watch the episodes “Loch Henry” or “Beyond the Sea” from season 6? Both episodes were as dark as Black Mirror gets, “Loch Henry” in particular. I have my own criticism about the show, and do often feel the earlier installments were better overall, but Brooker says Netflix has really had little impact on the show’s evolution.

The creator has mentioned before that as reality becomes bleaker, especially in the world of technology, it can be hard to make something that’s just as dark, if not more so.

In 2020, Brooker told Radio Times the world might need a break from Black Mirror.

“At the moment, I don’t know what stomach there would be for stories about societies falling apart, so I’m not working away on one of those. I’m sort of keen to revisit my comic skill set, so I’ve been writing scripts aimed at making myself laugh.”

The sixth season of the show does take things in a different direction tonally. Even “Loch Henry,” while nasty as anything, is a little different in terms of genre. Brooker seems to be expanding Black Mirror and exploring outside the realm of technological paranoia. Another example of that is “Demon 79,” which played like a more traditional horror story that would have been perfectly at home in Neflix’s other anthology series, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Overall, Brooker says he enjoys mixing things up.

"“I was aware we’re going on a global platform now, so we’ve got to make these stories a bit more international. And I wanted to mix it up a bit, as in not just keep doing bleak-a-thons.”"

He also notes that in the past, he came up with “San Junipero,” one of the series happiest (and most acclaimed) episodes, “off [his] own back.” So the idea that Netflix has shaped his storytelling isn’t really an accurate criticism. His writing has evolved alongside the show, and that might appeal to some, and not so much to others.

To Brooker’s credit, when your first episode includes a prime minister forced to have sex with a pig on live television, it’s really hard to top that in terms of overall grimness.

There is potential for a ‘White Bear’ sequel

At the panel, the British writer mentioned he has some ideas for a follow-up to one of the most disturbing episodes of Black Mirror of all time, the season 2 episode “White Bear.” He’s also thought of how “Demon 79” could potentially be turned into a standalone series.

Beyond that, there were rumors being tossed around of “USS Callister” getting its own spinoff, but that has yet to come to fruition.

Revisit all six seasons of Black Mirror on Netflix now.

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