To explore what the future looks like with new and emerging technologies, look no further than Black Mirror, better known as SXSW 2018. This March, a group of PNers from all over the world travelled to Austin, Texas for the interactive festival’s 31st year of bringing discoveries (see: Twitter launched here back in 2007) to the mainstream. Without a doubt, SXSW has been a place where culture, technology, and creativity in film and music meet to have a dialogue about what’s to come.

This intersection has paved the way for explorations that span industries and challenge the status quo each time by asking the question: How can we responsibly evolve new technology to adapt to human behavior and at what cost?

We all know how technology has improved the human condition over the last few centuries (e.g., the industrial revolution eliminating labor intensive hand production, the shipping enterprise revolutionizing global trade, and the list goes on). We also recognize how important industry regulation and public transparency has become, as we witness Facebook’s latest data scandal.

Technology undoubtedly shapes society. The producers of Black Mirror know this too well, which is why for four seasons they’ve made it a central theme in every episode. And SXSW prides itself on establishing future industry norms, so in a climate where everybody likes a lot of everything, it’s tackles many spheres of society.

To streamline my thoughts, below is an exploration of the future of healthcare technology specifically, and how it resembles Black Mirror.

First, some tips gleaned from keynotes, small group discussions, and workshops:

  • Good technology answers for who and for what with humanity in mind. When we’re not conscious, we get cool gadgets with no benefits. In today’s political climate, we’re seeing an increased need to drive purpose across audience segments, especially millennials. In short, avoid gimmicks and instead focus on functionality.
  • People tell bots more. You might tell a bot more about your health concerns than a doctor/physician because of the anonymity that comes with a bot. This also allows health professions to gather valuable research, which can help advance clinical trials.
  • Make smarter tech. Don’t make people adapt, make the technology smarter so it’s easier for people to use.
  • Establish a digital trust journey. The ultimate goal with health tech /digital health innovations is to encourage people to have zero inhibitions as it relates to tech, and to establish trust by creating a trust journey that works like personal relationships do, over time.
  • Be frugal. Find ways to save the industry money vs. spend more as healthcare is already so costly in this country.

Second, awesome tips put to practice IRL:

  • Cardio Lens allows you to measure people’s heart rate by looking at them through a mixed reality system that allows for non-contact physiological measurement. It connects pulse waves on a person’s face to a front facing web cam and holographic display. It’s got a personal health/IOT use, helping people understand their physiological impact on others and allowing people like physical trainers to assess a trainee’s “zone.”

Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” creates a world where people rate each other based on social, non-contact interactions using eye implants and mobile devices. These devices give users a one-time snapshot of everyone else’s socio-economic status. It also allows the person being rated to understand their psychological impact on others.

One tool is socio-economic, the other is health-oriented, but they share the same functionality.

  • Dermal Abyss uses skin as a pixel for indicating health issues by making tattoos the interface. Tattoos change colors based on biosensors in the ink and your skin chemistry that will help point to specific health issues. This has undergone pre-live tissue testing and is not yet in the market. Of note, this was selected as a winner for this year’s SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards.

I’m going to reference this episode twice so get ready: Black Mirror’s “Arkangel”, tells the story of someone who, after almost losing her daughter, invests in tracking technology where she can manipulate her in and outputs and filter out any stimuli that she’d deem harmful. Her daughter’s implant is much like what people are already doing with chipping their pets, and a biometric tattoo is very much in the same vein.

  • Virtuix Omni – This omni directional treadmill provides a safe, secure platform for you to physically run around freely within a virtual environment. You are strapped into a harness to keep from falling, and you’re running on a concave surface with special slip proof shoes. It’s currently a B2B offering for video game developers to optimize their upcoming games and it’s designed to get people moving, and incorporate healthy habits while gaming.

Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” explores a credit-based society where people run on stationary bikes in a totally virtual world to accomplish their goals. Sound crazy? Try strapping yourself in to a treadmill to play a video game like the guy below.

  • GE’s Unseen Stars – With the goal of creating a more balanced world for women, and getting 20K more women hires in science careers at GE, the company brought a VR experience to Grand Central station to celebrate through VR projections on the beautiful ceilings of the heavily-trafficked station. The projections displayed 12 women leaders in aeronautics, healthcare, engineering, etc. They ran this experience for 4 days, averaging 750k daily visits. BBDO brought this HR program to life on GE’s behalf.

You can experience this by watching in 360 via YouTube.

“Black Museum”, a Black Mirror season 4 episode conveys an immersive experience of untold stories and stories past including that of a convict accused of something that he didn’t do. This isn’t a spoiler alert, this episode is just THAT GOOD.

  • Woebot – This bot brings mental health awareness to masses; checks in with you once a day and provides cognitive behavioral therapy that encourage mindfulness, working through challenges. Has clinical psychologists on staff to ensure accuracy.

Black Mirror’s “Be Right Back” allows you to talk to your recently deceased significant others though their synthetic recreation via artificial intelligence, to cope with mourning their loss. It learns their behavior and language and uses this to communicate accurately and most authentically with loved ones. Be Right Back deals with closure, Woebot teaches you how to cope with closure and other suffering.

  • Microsoft Hands-Free Music – Created and inspired by a former musician in a band who was diagnosed with ALS (as well as other members of the ALS community) and as a result was unable to use his hands, this technology produces music through eye-controlled software.

Hands down the best episode of Black Mirror is San Junipero so if you haven’t watched the show, start here. It tells the story of a woman trapped in her own body and a demo allows her the freedom to exist – to live, dance, love, and more. The common thread is achieving freedom through technology.

  • MRI AutoDetect – Most innovations cost money, this one saves it. This is an implantable defibrillator that makes it easy for device patients to safely undergo MRI scans as well as schedule, undergo or repeat scans as needed. The technology automatically recognizes when the patient enters an MRI environment and converts their cardiac device to MRI mode, automatically returning the device to its therapeutic programming once the scan is complete.

Remember I said I’d site “Arkangel” again? Here it is – a brain implant for kids that could be controlled and monitored via iPad? This is it.