Arkangel is the second episode of season 4 of Black Mirror. The episode is focused around a protective single mother, Marie, trying to use technology to prevent her child, Sara, from experiencing trauma, with damaging consequences. The device Marie monitors Sara with is called Arkangel, the namesake of the episode. Here is our review of the Arkangel technology, plus a look at the wider context of privacy vs security.
What is the Arkangel?
In simple terms, the Arkangel device is an implant capable of monitoring and altering a person’s sensory information, location and health. This is seen through the tablet and software that comes with the service.
First off, the tablet is obviously doable as tablets of that nature have existed since the turn of the millennium. What’s more interesting is the actual implant. The implant, which doesn’t actually have its own name, unlike other Black Mirror implants, is shown to be very small, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to see the thing so have to assume it is similar to implants from other episodes, such as the Grain, Cookie or Z-eyes.
What does remain consistently inconvenient to review is the fact that none of these brain-machine interfacing capabilities are ever properly explained, though this doesn’t prevent anyone from speculating about the technology. One way for this to work is to connect the implant devices to the central nervous system and translate data from biological to a digitally understood signal and then into a screen or other device
If such an implant as the Arkangel was formatted to interpret biological signals, it could theoretically be able to send them anywhere, provided there was a signal. It would also theoretically be able to do that in reverse, which is how the censored images and words could be enforced. However, this would require a lot of extremely fast computing, something which would be impossible from something so tiny. The alternative, cloud computing, would be more plausible but brings in a number of issues, such as latency, signal strength and security, all of which compromise the integrity of the system.
The likelihood of fitting the sensory manipulation, biological signs and GPS capability in a device no larger than a small bee is incredibly unlikely, so this episode is lacking in the realism. Perhaps a pebble-sized device could one day handle it but it remains to be seen. As for the tablet, it is arguably redundant and perhaps it would have made more sense to have an app. There is some reason why the company Arkangel wouldn’t want to do this as apps are far more easily cracked than a combination of proprietary software and hardware, which is how tech giants Apple and Tesla choose to run operations.
Software is another interesting aspect of the Arkangel service. There are six primary options on the menu screen: Vitals, GPS, Sight Stream, History, Settings and Profile.
- Vitals: the Vitals menu is shown very briefly in the episode. What we do see is various health levels such as heart rate, temperature, hormone levels, oxygen levels, hydration, blood pressure and more. Within this, there are more details, such as ‘blood health’ which shows various mineral and molecule amounts, sugar levels and cell count in terms of how normal they are. Overall, this seems like a highly useful feature and actually helps to instantly diagnose an iron deficiency.
- GPS: the Global Positioning System, known colloquially as GPS, is an array of satellites that are used to triangulate a device’s exact location. This system is extremely common and exists in almost all internet-enabled devices. In the episode, this feature is used to track Sara and reports data such as distance from the tablet in miles. There is also a 3D-rendered map of the world within which Sara’s location is shown.
- Sight Stream: Sight Stream is like most streams in that a camera (in this case eyes) records footage and that footage is shared instantly. Unlike most streaming services, there doesn’t appear to be any options for pausing, rewinding, using lower resolutions or casting the stream to another device, though these features do not play a role in the episode.
- History: History is a sort of memory bank of the user. From use in the episode, it seems that history is automatically saved up to a certain point, such as 24 hours. In the history menu, there are a further six options: Saved, Moments, Recent, Places, Alerts and Faces. This is similar to how software like Google Photos works, with AI creating albums based on faces or location. It isn’t clear what the difference between Saved and Moments is, but Sara uses the moments tab to expose her mum for saving her memory of sex with her boyfriend.
- Settings: The settings tab is only seen once in the setup. It includes things like PIN, auto-update, alerts, location tracking and so on, making it in many regards like most settings tabs on tablets.
- Profile: Profile is the only other tab that isn’t seen. Presumably, Profile would include Sara’s name, date of birth, medical details and age, maybe with a photo, but as none of this is seen, there isn’t anything to review.
These menus and sub-menus all seem reasonable if you assume the hardware is feasible. There are a number of features lacking from the tablet that modern smart devices have, such as more media controls but this doesn’t make a noticeable difference. Interestingly, in the setup, the auto-update feature is actually left off, perhaps to give control to the mother, Marie. The User Interface is actually very similar to that of the Grain in ‘The Entire History of You’, suggesting that one may actually be related to or inspired by the other.