This Robotic Bee Is Just Like A 'Black Mirror' Ep

by Jenny Hollander

Warning: This article contains spoilers, both for the Black Mirror episode "Hated In The Nation" and for the upcoming bee apocalypse. (Or, as I like to call it, the Bee-pocalypse.)

Over in Georgia, a student has invented a "bee drone" that pollinates crops and flowers, and she hopes to bring it to market relatively soon. Since bees in North American and in Europe are dying at record rates, partially due to climate change, this feels like a great idea, right?

NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. And if you've seen the Black Mirror bee episode, trust me, you'll know exactly why.

A little synopsis of "Hated In The Nation": Somebody creates a mechanical bee prototype to combat the effects of bees dying. It's approved by the British government and millions of these bees begin buzzing around the United Kingdom, pollinating flowers that said dead bees cannot. A series of mysterious deaths lead British authorities to believe that the bees have been hacked. Surprise: They have! Also, the government has given the bees facial recognition abilities, because it wants to take advantage of the bee program to spy on British citizens. Cool!

It turns out that every British citizen who uses a specific Twitter hashtag (#DeathTo, aka wishing death upon a maligned public figure) will be targeted by the robotic bees. There's nothing authorities can do; the technology is too far gone. 387,036 people have tweeted #DeathTo, and the episode ends with precisely 387,036 dead bodies.

Side note: The bees cause the most painful death imaginable. In fact, the targeted humans end up killing themselves — slitting their own throats, in one memorable example — just to end the pain.

Back to real life. Over at the Savannah College of Art and Design, an enterprising student has created a smart bee drone that seeks to pollinate the crops and flowers that the deceased bees cannot. "I had no idea about the danger to honeybee colonies and that bees were disappearing," Anna Haldewang said of the thinking behind her project in an interview with CNN. (Mass bee death, occurring in the United States as we speak, is considered an enormous climate threat.)

Haldewang's "bee drone" differs from the Black Mirror bees in several crucial ways.

  • Her "bee drone" is the size of a human hand. In "Hated In The Nation," the bees are small enough to crawl into a human ear.
  • Her "bee drone" is not for mass-market use, at least at first. "I would love to see people use it in their backyards and even create custom gardens with it," she told CNN.
  • Her "bee drone" does not yet exist. She's hoping to bring it to the mass market in the next few years.
  • Her "bee drone" is unlikely to be secretly used by the government as a vessel for spying. (I mean, I think? What do I know!)

This is not the first Black Mirror episode apparently come to life. The first ever episode of the Charlie Brooker-created series told the story of a British prime minister forced to engage in a sexual act with a live pig to free a kidnapped British princess. (I know, I know. Trust me; it makes sense when you watch it.) Years later, allegations surfaced in Britain that then-prime minister David Cameron had reportedly placed his penis in a deceased pig's mouth as part of a college initiation rite. Cameron adamantly denied the allegations, which nonetheless became known as #Piggate. The scandal even has its own Wikipedia entry.

I leave you with this CNN quote from the dean of Haldewang's art school: '"[The bee drone] could conceivably be used in large-scale farming, even in hydroponic farming."

Excuse me while I go hyperventilate in a corner.