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Can We Create Black Mirror’s San Junipero in Real Life?

We explore the science, morality, and story logic behind one of Black Mirror’s most celebrated episodes, the mysterious San Junipero.

SPOILER ALERT: This episode of Does it Fly? and the show notes that follow contains spoilers for Black Mirror, “San Junipero.” If you haven’t watched the episode yet, go check it out on Netflix and then come back and join us!

One of Black Mirror’s most critically acclaimed episodes! Apparently set in a seaside town in the 1980s, “San Junipero” follows the story of two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet and develop a relationship. But in fact, the San Junipero locale is a simulated reality where the elderly and dying can live out their remaining days in a youthful, idealized version of their choosing before deciding whether to pass on to death or remain in the simulation forever. San Junipero has cemented itself as one of the most “happy” episodes of Black Mirror, showing there’s at least a little room for positivity and hope in the future. Hakeem and Tamara are back again, looking through the mirror at our reality to see what it would take to upload one’s consciousness (and soul?) permanently.

From a scientific perspective, Hakeem investigates the technological feasibility of uploading and suspending human consciousness in virtual reality. How are our memories created, and would it be possible to upload entire neural networks? What would the ethical considerations be for having an afterlife of this nature? How would it affect our understanding of life, death, and immortality? And how much of yourself and your memories will be uploaded? Perhaps most importantly, would this version of you be a copy, an imitation, or your whole self?

Meanwhile, Tamara jacks in to tackle “San Junipero” from a story perspective. Does the episode’s lack of technological explanation for its virtual reality enhance or diminish the authenticity of Yorkie and Kelly’s relationship? What’s the user interface like, and what’s San Junipero’s population breakdown? Would you trust your consciousness in the hands of a corporation for eternity? And how does this episode’s positive ending reflect and challenge Black Mirror’s usual pessimism about the future and technology?

All this and more in our latest episode! Remember that you can join in on the conversation in the comments on our YouTube page, so be sure to like, subscribe, and come back for more!

FURTHER READING

Want to dive a little deeper into the scientific concepts Hakeem touched on in today’s episode?

The Hebbian Learning Rule

“Memories are fragments; some parts are in the pre-frontal cortex, some parts are in the hippocampus; it all has to do with the connection between neurons. Neurons that fire together wire together.”

Memory Retrieval and the Passage of Time

“Every time you access a memory, there’s a possibility for modification.”

Language Models, Explained

“If you’re Albert Einstein, you have a lot of writing; you have a lot of speech; I can put that in an AI learning algorithm so that it can learn to predict the next word just like ChatGPT does.”

Self-Concept

“We each have three selves: our private self, our public self, and our secret self.”

Want some sci-fi & the afterlife or anthologies? Here are some suggested readings on stories and concepts similar to “San Junipero”!

Permutation City by Greg Eagan

“A life in Permutation City is unlike any life to which you’re accustomed. You have Eternal Life, the power to live forever. Immortality is real, just not what you’d expect.”

Axiomatic by Greg Eagan

“Drawing on nine years of research, Axiomatic explores the ways we understand the traumas we inherit and the systems that sustain them.”

The Wilds by Julia Elliott 

“At a deluxe medical spa on a nameless Caribbean island, a middle-aged woman hopes to revitalize her fading youth with grotesque rejuvenating therapies that combine cutting-edge medical technologies with holistic approaches.”

Replay by Ken Grimwood

“43-year-old man who dies and wakes up back in 1963 in his 18-year-old body. He relives his life with all his memories of the previous 25 years intact. This happens repeatedly, with the man playing out his life differently in each cycle.”

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

“Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared.” Combines science fiction, romance, and horror, all with a beautiful story and character development

SUGGESTED VIEWING

Of course, watching “San Junipero” is the best way to inform the discussion of today’s episode, but here are a few other Black Mirror episodes that tackle death and technology in a not-so-far future.

Black Mirror S3E4 “San Junipero”

Our topic of discussion!

Black Mirror S2E1 “Be Right Back”

After Martha’s boyfriend is killed, she turns to a service that creates an AI replica of him, bringing him back from the dead, or at least an imitation of him.

Black Mirror S4E6 “Black Museum” 

A museum of medical marvels (or failures) from the hologram of a convicted killer’s mind to a stuffed monkey with the consciousness of a dying mother, what miracles (or horrors) await in the Black Museum?

Here are some movies and TV shows mentioned in this week’s podcast or some honorable mentions!

Upload

Another look into the reality of virtual reality in a not-so-far-off future. When a computer programmer gets into a deadly car accident, his consciousness gets uploaded into a virtual afterlife of his choosing, but not everything is as it seems. 

The Seventh Sign

Mentioned by Hakeen and Tamara. A sci-fi drama/thriller that explores the myth of the Guf, the well of souls that’s a place that you existed in before you were born.

The Matrix

You can’t talk about virtual realities without talking about The Matrix. Set in a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside the Matrix, a simulated reality that intelligent machines have created.

Vanilla Sky

An honorable mention that explores the concept of digital afterlife. Starring Tom Cruise, it’s a sci-fi thriller following a magazine publisher who begins questioning reality after being disfigured in a car crash.

Lorn “Anvil”

Another honorable mention. In this electronic music video, Anvil is a social network that allows you to destroy your body to fight against overpopulation, but your conscience won’t be destroyed; it will join the social network Anvil.

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