X-Files Recap: Rm9sbG93ZXJz Is Smart, Funny, And Frighteningly Prescient
Following a two-week hiatus The X-Files is back with a warning: be nice to your smartphone. Or: heed the sage advice of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and teach your children well. Using Microsoft’s doomed AI Twitter bot as a jumping-off point, the latest episode (with its unpronounceable title) follows Mulder and Scully over the course of a tech-enabled night (think driver-less cars, waiter-less restaurants, automated homes, and many, many drones) that progresses from irksome to perilous.
Back in 2016, Microsoft launched Tay, an artificially intelligent Twitter account that would learn by tweeting, being tweeted at, and using the chat programs GroupMe and Kik. In just 16 hours, Tay’s account was taken down by Microsoft after trolls taught Tay to be a terrible racist. That’s right: it took less than a day for humans to teach a completely neutral form of technology to be objectively bad. We, as a society, did not teach this new robot child well and the X-Files has an idea about how we might pay for that and future missteps.
Mulder and Scully’s evening of automation begins at a sushi restaurant where Mulder is served an incorrect (and totally gross) dish. Understandably, he doesn’t tip. After, Scully takes a ride home in a self-driving car piloted at terrifying speeds while ignoring her demands to pull over and let her out. Meanwhile, Mulder uses a navigation app to get home. It takes him right back to the sushi restaurant.
From there, Scully’s smarthome goes into revolt, invading her most private moments before going completely berserk. Her speakers blast music, her coffee maker overflows, her fridge badgers her about her diet and her gas fireplace tries to kill her—and succeeds in destroying her home (probably for the best). Over at Casa Mulder, a far more low-tech and down heel abode, a plague of drones descend like locusts, driving Mulder out of his house and towards Scully’s place/pile of ash.
Realizing that they’re being tracked by their tech (while also being hassled by apps for tips and ratings), the pair ditch their phones, watches, and *ahem* personal massage devices and go on the run. But you can’t escape technology these days, it’s too pervasive. In a final face off with a more threatening version of the Short Circuit robot, Mulder is given one last chance to tip his automated server for the terrible sushi he had four hours earlier.
As the clock ticks down, he decides to tip… and the onslaught of AI is immediately called off. All the bots wanted was some feedback—or for us to teach them (it’s what they’d been asking all episode, but like most of us, Mulder and Scully just swiped the requests away). Rm9sbG93ZXJz, with its minimal dialogue, subtle jokes (Bigly Credit, anyone?) and all-too familiar tech annoyances drew its creepiness, Black Mirror style, by taking our tech troubles just one step further than where they are now and showing us where we might end up. That’s the scary part.