Charlie Brooker on hitting the reset button in the new Black Mirror series and ChatGPT

Television: Black Mirror has cracked, and something new and different has poured through

Just to be clear, Charlie Brooker doesn’t think your smartphone is trying to kill you. “I sometimes get a bit frustrated when people describe the show as being a warning about technology,” the Black Mirror creator says. “And I don’t think it is, so much. Okay, we did an episode with a load of killer robot dogs – maybe that wasn’t focusing on the upside of technology. But generally in the stories it’s a weak human who messes things up rather than that there’s an inherently evil device being used.”

Brooker is in a Netflix studio in London, talking about the sixth season of his dystopian anthology series, which debuts on Thursday, June 15th. Having landed with a bang in 2011 with an episode in which the British prime minister does something absurd and humiliating in 10 Downing Street (imagine), Black Mirror has gone on to capture the ambivalence many of us feel about an era in which we have spent longer gazing at our devices than talking to one another.

Or at least that used to be what Black Mirror was about. Sixth time out, Brooker has hit reset to an extent. There is still an instalment about the way technology can cause our lives to unravel, the Netflix-parodying Joan Is Awful, which kicks off the new series. But it is elsewhere far more expansive: Black Mirror has cracked, and something new and different has poured through. There’s a gory tribute to retro monster movies and a rumination on racism in 1970s Britain, and how it connects to modern UK politics. It’s packed with stars, too, including Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett.

The shifts in tone, though, have not been at the price of the sense of Mephistophelian glee that has always bubbled through the veins of Black Mirror. It is great fun, served with dark wit by Brooker, a former video-game journalist who used to write about Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum the way Ernest Hemingway wrote about shooting rhinos.


One idea he is eager to get away from is that Black Mirror is “about” technology. What it has been about from the start, he says, is people.

“Black Mirror episodes don’t tend to be about giant conspiracy theories or a giant, very complex backstory involving an alien civilisation crashing in space,” he says. “Some of the stories get into places where we have fun pointing out the nightmarish consequences of something: wouldn’t it be interesting if this happened to a human?”

He wrote the new series towards the end of the pandemic, having put Black Mirror on pause when the world went into lockdown. In an actual dystopia, the last thing Netflix subscribers needed was more depressive sci-fi. But he returns arguably slightly behind the curve, with recent controversies around AI and ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence “chatbot”, having come along after the season was in the bag.

“I said something that didn’t get misquoted so much as taken out of context, where I said I’d been toying around with ChatGPT. So we wrapped before ChatGPT came out. But I’m interested in technology and geeky things, obviously. So one of the first things I did when I came across ChatGPT was to type, ‘Tell me a Black Mirror story.’ What it’s doing is hoovering up human content that human writers or creators have made and repackaging it.”

If it ever arrives, the machine apocalypse probably won’t take the form of ChatGPT. “It’s a very sophisticated tool but, at first glance, possibly looks more sophisticated than it is. It’s not actually coming up with original ideas and concepts. It’s good at doing generic text. That’s why it’s useful for cover letters. Or you could get it to emulate the style of a very neutral news report. It’s not a fact-checker. It can’t go out and report on things. So I don’t think it’s ever going to, touch wood, replace human writers. He said, crossing his fingers.”

He may have missed ChatGPT, but Black Mirror has predicted the future in other ways. Brooker was one of the first to deduce that social-media pile-ons could cause a person to unravel (the theme of the episode Nosedive, in the third season) and was ahead of Meta and Apple in seeing that virtual reality would eventually start to bleed into actual reality. Still, he is reluctant to take too much credit: these trends were already happening. Black Mirror just pointed them out.

“Quite often the show gets props for having done things that seem to have then ‘come true’. But often you’re extrapolating something that you’re looking at and taking to its most logically awful conclusion. That can seem very predictive.”

Technology isn’t always bad, he says. He brings up the Emmy-winning instalment San Junipero, in which – spoiler alert – people in the final stages of life are depicted living and loving all over again in virtual reality. Here, heaven is a place on earth. That’s the opposite of the nightmare visions with which Black Mirror is sometimes associated.

“I never felt it was our job to show what was going on and warn people against it. I think many things in Black Mirror would be great if they did happen on the technology front.”

Season six of Black Mirror debuts on Netflix on Thursday, June 15th