Future Tech

Our brightest films of 2021

It’s been a memorable year on Tomorrow Unlocked. Check out the highlights

It’s been a memorable year on Tomorrow Unlocked. Check out the highlights

Our brightest films of 2021

It’s been a memorable year on Tomorrow Unlocked. Check out the highlights

2021 has been quite a year for all of us. While technology has helped us through the pandemic in many different ways, our reliance on tech is often not matched by our ability to protect ourselves from cybercrime. 

Against this backdrop we’ve told stories about criminal gangs, explored immortality and asked whether it’s possible to fall in love with robots with the aim of stirring debate and entertaining hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world. 

Join us as we take a look back at the highlights of this memorable year.

The controversial one. Imagine Beyond: Who Wants to Live Forever?

This film attracted the most comments on Tomorrow Unlocked’s YouTube channel in 2021 when we delved into one of humankind’s oldest themes: immortality. With advances in technology and a radical new global movement, living forever might be closer than we think. But is it something you would want? Watch and decide for yourself. 

Check out other stories about AI, robotics and future tech in Imagine Beyond on YouTube.

The edgy one. Imagine Beyond: Build me Somebody to Love

Could you fall in love with a robot? Will AI relationships be the norm in the future? As robots become ever more human, surely it’s only a matter of time before human-cyborg relations enter a whole new dimension. In this age-restricted video we explore these themes and meet those shaping the future of robotics. 

The multi-award winning Imagine Beyond series offers new and exciting perspectives on what the future of technology could bring for what it means to be human. Stream all episodes on YouTube.

The one for true crime fans. hacker:HUNTER – Emotet

Emotet, the world’s biggest organised cybercrime gang, was responsible for a swathe of crimes and possibly deaths. A global coalition of law enforcement officers came together to take them down – no mean feat when the anonymous crime gang was constantly on the move. This episode of hacker:HUNTER tells the inside story of their demise through the eyes of the heroes who brought them to justice.

hacker:HUNTER looks at outstanding moments of hacking and cybercrime from a deeply human angle. Enjoy all the episodes here.

The interactive one. hacker:HUNTER – Carbanak

Choose your own adventure brought bang up to date with our first interactive film. This documentary takes viewers inside the Carbanak attack of 2013 which saw money flying out of ATMs around the world. Get ready to go behind the scenes of the biggest cyber heist in history.

The audio one. Fast Forward

In our first audio series we delve into the future of tech by looking at the recent past. Led by writer, broadcaster and cultural theorist Ken Hollings, the series includes insightful interviews with industry, media and academic tech experts who have an eye on the future. 

Listen to all episodes of this CMA 2021 silver award-winning audio series

The one that might make you cry. Defenders of Digital: I am the Cavalry

Josh Corman leads a collective of white hat hackers, The Cavalry. Driven by the pain of losing his mother, Josh and his global collective are on a mission to make every

connected device safe, from medical infusion pumps to cars. This film inspires and terrifies in equal measure.  

Watch all 3 series of Defenders of Digital to hear from the heroes who fight to keep digital fair, open, free and functional.

The one that shows the future of industry. Young Bright Minds: The Autonomous Factory

Smart factories could fight climate change, save lives and help solve the supply chain crisis that we’ve seen in this year’s post-pandemic world. 

Could they even represent the next industrial revolution? In this episode of Young Bright Minds we meet Theo Saville, CEO of CloudNC and pioneer of autonomous factories. Theo explains why connected manufacturing is the future and how optimizing machines could save lives.

The one that was most awarded. From Kurils With Love – Behind the Scenes

The original From Kurils With Love documentary scooped 4 global awards in 2020, and in 2021 picked up a prestigious nomination for a Webby – the international awards that honor excellence on the internet.

This year we took you behind the scenes of this extraordinary film. With previously unseen footage, filmmakers Renan Ozturk and Taylor Rees share what the apocalypse created by the eruption of the Raykoke Volcano meant to them and how it became a metaphor for the world’s experience during the global pandemic.

The one for business. hacker: HUNTER Behind the Screens – Lighting the Dark Web

The acclaimed hacker:HUNTER series took a new perspective in 2021 by shining a light on cybersecurity professionals and the work they do to fight the exponential rise of cybercrime.

In this inaugural episode we meet officers from the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit who talk us through the Dark Web crime they fight every day, detailing how they catch cybercriminals whose identity, location and organisation is constantly changing. 

Ready for more captivating stories from frontline crime fighters? Stream more episodes of hacker:HUNTER Behind the Screens here.

The drama film. Click

For our first foray into fiction we commissioned a collective of teenage Nigerian filmmakers, The Critics, to create a short film. The self-taught collective is gaining global attention with their sci-fi films. In this movie they look at cybercrime from the perspective of Mel, a hacker who lives with her sick mother while investigating the mysterious disappearance of her father.

For more videos on inspiring tech innovation, subscribe to Tomorrow Unlocked on YouTube.

The Tomorrow Unlocked Film Festival Winner: Terra Cene

Now in its second year, the Tomorrow Unlocked Film Festival gives up-and-coming independent filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their creativity and tell engaging stories about how technology influences our lives now and in the future. Directed by Nono Ayuso, the 2021 winner Terra Cene is a remembrance of things past and an observation of the interconnected nature of our time on Earth.

Check out the 2021 Tomorrow Unlocked Film Festival finalists.

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One web developer with an exceptional ability

Young bright mind Cosmin Ciolacu can compose code in his head

Young bright mind Cosmin Ciolacu can compose code in his head

One web developer with an exceptional ability

Young bright mind Cosmin Ciolacu can compose code in his head

Visualizing code

Romanian web developer Cosmin Ciolacu has the amazing ability to see code in his head and know if it will work. A wheelchair user who isn’t able to use his arms and hands to type, Cosmin composes scripts in his mind then mentally error-checks them before dictating word by word, character by character to an assistant.

Using assistive technologies, he reviews code on screen for any transcribing errors. And he’s been making some impressive tech of his own.

Tech for greater good

Cosmin’s first project was designing and developing a user-friendly e-learning platform. Inspired by YouTube and Netflix, teachers can use it to upload educational videos and interact with students. Cosmin wants to make sure the tech is easy to use so that it can help more people.

The potential of future tech excites Cosmin, especially Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which lets users control devices with their minds through an implanted ‘neural lace.’See more videos about Young Bright Minds on our YouTube channel or Instagram.

Would you have a brain implant that lets you control devices?

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AI: The mirror we don’t recognize ourselves in

Interviewing Cambridge University Junior Research Fellow in AI, Dr. Beth Singler, about the future of work.

Should we be polite to AI assistants? Why don’t we understand AI is strange because humans are strange? Are people getting their perceptions of robots from The Terminator franchise? I interview Dr. Beth Singler, anthropologist and Junior Research Fellow in artificial intelligence (AI) at University of Cambridge, on the weird and wonderful ways we imagine AI, robotics and the future of work.

Dr. Beth Singler (@BVLSingler) is one of many experts appearing in Tomorrow Unlocked’s new audio series Fast Forward. She examines the social, ethical and philosophical implications of AI and robotics, and has spoken at Edinburgh Science Festival, London Science Museum and New Scientist Live.

Ken: In your work, you engage people in conversations about the implications of AI and robotics. What do people think AI is?

Beth: For the public, it isn’t one thing. People point to examples of AI being implemented, but it has different definitions for people. They draw presumptions from science fiction and media accounts of dangerous AI and scary robots. It’s a malleable term – people say ‘the algorithm’ and mean AI.

Many think of AI in the workplace replacing human physical work, but we see AI taking on more knowledge labor and even emotional labor.

Ken: What kind of emotional tasks can AI do?

Beth: We increasingly see interfaces with AI that give simulated emotional responses. AI assistants do tasks for you but pleasantly and civilly. Call center work is already highly structured and scripted – an AI assistant or chatbot can take over that pleasantry system. How workplaces implement AI will influence how we connect with other humans.

Ken: Are we creating a human-machine social world we’ll have to learn to interact with?

Beth: Yes. We’re seeing these human-machine interactions playing out in different places – in the home, workplace, and care settings. We’re having to understand that relationship and teach our children to negotiate it. There are discussions on whether children should be polite when using AI assistants. We’re coming up with a new social format for interactions with AI.

Ken: I thought, of course you should be polite to machines – if only because one day they’ll look at everything we’ve said and done and judge us accordingly. I want to be on the right side of them.

Beth: We also see arguments that you should be civil to AI assistants because this is how we should behave to other entities, whether human or non-human – that it reflects our natures. If we aren’t civil to machines, it says more about us than their needs. There are many different answers to questions of politeness to AI assistants.

Ken: People find conversations with Cleverbot amusing when it asks things like, “Don’t you wish you had a body?” or “What is God to you?” They don’t consider Cleverbot thinks it’s appropriate because a human asked IT those questions. We’re looking into a strange, distorting mirror and not recognizing our reflection.

Beth: Absolutely. There’s a reason the Black Mirror TV series is called Black Mirror – it’s a reflective surface for understanding ourselves. AI and machine responses come from data sets, and those involve biases.

It’s a moment to reflect, for instance, on questions of personhood before we even get to anything like artificial general intelligence (AGI) or superintelligence. Should we be civil? If we say rude or sexist things to a female AI assistant, does that matter? These questions come out again and again.

I’m an anthropologist, meaning I study what humans do and think. These big questions are integral to our concept of what AI is. I’ve seen in my work engaging the public and seeing their sometimes hopeful, sometimes fearful responses that this will be a conversation we’ll have for some time yet.

Talking about AI and the future of work gets down to big questions like, what is the human being for? If we define ourselves in terms of what we do and what we produce, we’ll fear replacement.

Ken: I was at an airport buying a train ticket one afternoon. It was quiet, and the woman behind the counter said, “You should have been here yesterday – the automatic ticket machines had recalibrated, giving out wrong tickets. People adjust. Machines don’t.” I wondered if this ability to adjust is part of our relationship with machines.

Beth: It’s interesting how much we adjust to machines. With the airport systems that use facial recognition software, I often have to take off my glasses, change my hair or bob down. We adjust ourselves to be accepted by the system.

You see this in how automation is changing the workplace. There are interviews with facial recognition software involved, so we’re trying to smile more in a video interview. We’re increasingly making changes to fit the machine-based system.

Ken: It suggests an element of trust. Where does trust fit in our relationship with machines?

Beth: Trust is key. We want to believe software that observes our responses in job interviews is fair and neutral, but we have examples where trust is let down.

In the UK in 2020, an algorithm that helped grade student exam papers damaged public trust – it penalized students studying at less high-achieving schools. In my work, I see examples of people trusting too much – they have an image of a superintelligence that doesn’t exist yet. Around the term “blessed by the algorithm,” people feel their YouTube content is promoted because the algorithm decided they should be lucky. They use the language of religious belief.

Society can only trust technology it understands. Digital literacy – understanding what AI is and isn’t – is key to that.

Ken: We tend to understand things better as fiction. It’s a way to get a grip on the world. But I get the feeling fiction’s not a grip anymore, but a stranglehold. Is that fair?

Beth: I enjoy science fiction accounts of AI in their many interpretations, fears and hopes.

One of the hazards is a strict, negative story used too often. I’m a fan of the Terminator film franchise, but I see how dystopian imagery of robot uprisings shapes people’s views of AI. And AI making crucial decisions about our future – whether we get a job or a mortgage, or how we’re treated in hospital – may also be overshadowed by Terminator-like stories.

Ken: And it stops us noticing when AI does good things, like in medicine and traffic control. The robots are already among us, but they don’t usually walk on two legs. They’re more likely to be sorting out your airplane ticket.

Beth: Absolutely. The ‘home help’ robot concept from the 1950s and 60s would move around the house on two legs and perform tasks. It made real home automation invisible – a washing machine doesn’t have that shiny futuristic look.

It’s the same with recent examples like the robot vacuum cleaner – they become an invisible family member.

Ken: If we had the domestic robots imagined from the 1930s to the 1950s, we’d have to rebuild homes – they wouldn’t fit.

Sophia the robot Interview: Sophia the robot answers Stylist’s philosophical questions youtu.be

Sophia the robot answers philosophical questions

Beth: There’s much hype over embodied robots. For some, Hanson’s Sophia robot represents the next step in AI and human evolution too. But what’s Sophia’s commercial use? It’s unclear if she’s useful in the home or office. What dream are we selling with bipedal robot servants that don’t fit into how we use technology today? We’ve made space in our homes for AI assistants – the disembodied voice that answers our questions.

Ken: Interestingly, there’s not often a ‘man machine.’ It’s usually the ‘woman machine,’ from Maria in the film Metropolis to Olimpia in The Sandman and Hadaly in The Future Eve. Why is the woman and the machine conflated?

Beth: Look at the voices involved in choosing to make AI assistants female. There are arguments we find female voices more soothing, but for many academics, gendered AI seems an attempt to replicate the mother or wife.

We’ve moved on in society – women can choose to work in or outside the home. For some, that leaves a gap for intellectual and emotional labor. The always-responsive female figure, whether the wife or the mother, is reconstituted in machine form.

Ken: Another thing that parallels the idea of the robot is a child. Robots are becoming smaller. For the sake of argument, a male of average build might seem threatening to many people.

Beth: There’s a move toward making robots cuter and replicating child and animal forms to reduce those threatening associations from science fiction. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator versus the therapeutic robot PARO, modeled on a baby harp seal.

Ken: Is there an element of trying to make work more fun? Perhaps work becomes more like play if you have an AI assistant who helps with the emotional labor?

Beth: Yes. There’s a history of trying to gamify the workplace – developing ‘third space’ options that involve games or places where you can nap. Perhaps how we apply AI is a part of how we make the workplace more enjoyable. If our software chatted back to us, was entertaining and responded to us, it might seem less laborious.

Ken: Going back to emotional labor, programs could soften the edges of work relationships, whether online or in an office – I can imagine something like an ’emotional Roomba’ (robot vacuum cleaner) allowing for moments of interaction.

Beth: We see examples of AI mediating between humans in conversation, like machine learning algorithms suggesting how to respond to emails or warning your tone is too harsh – softening the edges of our interactions at work is a developing space.

Ken: After some emails I’ve had, I see the value in something like that.

Beth: I also saw an application for divorced or divorcing couples helping conversations be more amicable for the benefit of any children. A machine learning algorithm warns you things like, perhaps you’re being a bit sarcastic.

Ken: I’m scared of an algorithm that understands sarcasm. That will be the end of humanity.

Beth: There’s a wonderful Tom Gauld cartoon about scientists trying to create a sarcastic bot. And the bot says to the scientist, “It’s going great. This guy is a real genius.”

Ken: What thought about AI and the future of work would you like to share?

Beth: I’d like people to consider how much we should change our behavior around AI in the workplace. People don’t normally interact in purely rational ways. If we curtail that normal human messiness, we’re not anthropomorphizing AI but robo-morphizing humans. If we make ourselves smile more to do well in an interview with facial recognition software, we limit ourselves. Although we might see AI as a human simulation, do we become a human simulation in response to AI?

Beth Singler features in the Tomorrow Unlocked audio series Fast Forward, Episode 5. Listen to Fast Forward and explore more interviews with featured experts.

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The joy of getting your leg back

4 Star Wars-inspired films for May the 4th

Lives today are linked to the world of Star Wars more than many realize

Today is Star Wars Day! What better way to celebrate the iconic movies than by checking out these 4 documentaries that show how Star Wars technology is becoming a daily reality. These short films explore the amazing possibilities of this moment in robotics, cryonics and human augmentation.

Imagine Beyond – The Body (above)

In the final scenes of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker’s hand – cut off by Darth Vader – is replaced in just 24 hours. Scientists across the world are now working on robotic limbs that can integrate with human bodies. Will we soon become superhuman?

Watch these videos to see how technology is making Star Wars-evoking strides into human augmentation, robotics and cryonics.

Unlocked: Is more tech inside making us better?

Should bionic augmentation aim to restore bodies, or add to them? Tilly Lockey, who has highly customized bionic arms, and Wojtek Paprota, with his implanted chip, discuss the possibilities and advantages of cyborgs and robotic upgrades.

Robotic Relationships: How we could fall in love with machines

Robotic relationships may be a turning point in the age of the machine. Can humans and AI connect on a deep emotional level?

Frozen in time: Is this how we will cheat death?

Eternal life might be possible sooner than we think. What will it mean for our bodies and society?

How will you celebrate Star Wars Day? Share your traditions with us on Twitter and Facebook!

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Five best sci-fi TV shows predicting tech’s future

Videos we love: Five amazing sci-fi shows that predict the future of tech

Videos we love: Five amazing sci-fi shows that predict the future of tech

Five best sci-fi TV shows predicting tech’s future

Videos we love: Five amazing sci-fi shows that predict the future of tech

Technology could go anywhere in future. We ask you, which of these five sci-fi on-demand TV shows predicts it best?

Which sci-fi series gets our tech future right?

Predicting the future of tech is hard. These five on-demand sci-fi TV shows all predict different technological futures for humankind. Which do you think is closest to the truth?

Alphas (above)

Watch on Amazon Prime

In a new twist on the superhero saga, in Alphas, a select few humans have developed super senses, but they’re also plagued by harmful drawbacks. For the crime-fighting supergroup, their strengths and flaws act as both help and hindrance.

Altered Carbon

Watch on Netflix

Set in a future where consciousness is digitized and stored in human spines, people can survive physical death by having their memories and consciousness “re-sleeved” into new bodies. What could go wrong?

Black Mirror

Watch on Netflix

Could technology alter memory and perception? Will AI be our friend or foe? Can we tell a digital human from a real one? This anthology of self-contained future worlds will satisfy the most curious minds, but is not for the faint-hearted.

Brave New World

Watch on Amazon Prime

This 2020 adaptation loosely based on Aldous Huxley’s influential 1932 novel envisions a perfect, happy society, where everyone knows their place. But, with advanced genetic technology, is it possible?


Watch on BBC iPlayer (UK only)

In a world where quantum computing can predict all human behavior (ouch,) humanity places its trust in a crack team of developers to restore their freedom.

There you have it – our five favorite sci-fi shows predicting a technological future. Which stands out for you, and why? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook and see what others say. And at Tomorrow Unlocked, we have our own predictions for the future of tech. Strap in – this is Imagine Beyond.

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The real reason behind our AI skepticism

Our video picks: Sci-fi's role in the future of AI, courtesy of Big Think

Our video picks: Sci-fi's role in the future of AI, courtesy of Big Think

The real reason behind our AI skepticism

Our video picks: Sci-fi's role in the future of AI, courtesy of Big Think

Did Will Smith in I, Robot do such a convincing job that we can’t bear the thought of AI friends? Sci-fi author Ken MacLeod on the real reason for our AI skepticism, and how it could do us a favor.

Has science fiction changed the way we look at AI?

If sci-fi films like Frankenstein or i-Robot are anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical about the future of AI. Both feature creations of technology that eventually rebel. Cult movies aside, AI could improve lives, from autonomous healthcare to robotic relationships. But how do we make it safe?

AI and the future of robotics

The ‘rebellious robot’ narrative has been around in film and TV for decades, says sci-fi author Ken MacLeod. As AI and robotics have advanced and evolved, so too have our fears. Speaking for Big Think, MacLeod dissects our subconscious AI skepticisms, how they might help us build safer robots and what to keep in mind as technology evolves.

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A full week wearing a VR headset: What happened?

Our video picks: Don't try this at home, courtesy of Disrupt

Our video picks: Don't try this at home, courtesy of Disrupt

A full week wearing a VR headset: What happened?

Our video picks: Don't try this at home, courtesy of Disrupt

One man spent 168 hours – a full week – in a VR headset. He came out with these insights. Crazy experiment or timely voyage?

Seven days in a VR headset

However you normally spend your week, there’s probably a large chunk of it eating and sleeping. You may spend some time in nature, or maybe not. What if you could do it all in virtual reality? (Including the nature part.)

One man has gone to extreme lengths to show the possibilities of VR. Brought to you by ‘off-world’ YouTubers Disrupt, here’s what happens when you live in the future for a week.

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What do we do when AI becomes too powerful?

Our video picks: Freethink shows why it's crucial to govern AI

Our video picks: Freethink shows why it's crucial to govern AI

What do we do when AI becomes too powerful?

Our video picks: Freethink shows why it's crucial to govern AI

As AI amplifies everything humans have achieved, taking us further into the unknown, one question hangs in the balance.

How do we govern AI?

Since the dawn of time, human intelligence has led to crazy, cool and useful achievements. Now, as AI begins to play a critical role in our lives, Freethink is talking about why governance matters in the AI age.

Why is AI such a risk?

AI will bring immense benefits, from autonomous vehicles to robotic surgeons, but as with any groundbreaking tech, there are risks. In the wrong hands, AI could have fatal consequences. What if self-driving cars were hacked? Or if cybercriminals set off autonomous weapons? In this video, Freethink explores how we could use AI regulations to let this groundbreaking technology evolve safely.

If you like this, you’ll enjoy Coded: A Freethink and Tomorrow Unlocked collaboration following pioneering hackers, from farmers to state-backed crypto geniuses. Watch Coded season three.

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Could this beetle end water scarcity?

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

Could this beetle end water scarcity?

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

This World Water Day, we’re asking, how will we beat the world’s water crisis? Science Insider says one tiny beetle could be the answer.

Nature’s answer to climate change impacts this World Water Day

In fighting climate change, nature could teach us our biggest lessons. Take this machine learning-based ocean microorganism preservation project, for instance. Now, according to Science Insider, one big (or small) source of inspiration could come from the Namib Desert Beetle. Why are scientists rushing to study its exoskeleton as a way to help overcome the water crisis?

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Cyborgs: Would you trust this implant?

Live Q&A on human augmentation's future

Live Q&A on human augmentation's future

Cyborgs: Would you trust this implant?

Live Q&A on human augmentation's future

Cyborg, cyborg, where art thou? Right here. I’m joined by Kaspersky’s Marco Preuß to discuss the future of human augmentation with two people living augmented lives.

What’s the future of human augmentation?

Will the future be focused on human augmentation technologies meant to expand independence for people with disabilities, or as a launchpad to help push biological boundaries? Could it be both? That’s what we’ll be discussing on today’s edition of Tomorrow Unlocked livestream talks, this time in association with Kaspersky NEXT, the event about the latest research and technology realities of tomorrow.

Rainer Bock and Marco Preuß talk to two people living augmented lives that are worlds apart. Tilly Lockey lost her limbs at a young age to an illness no doctor thought she would survive. Now she’s one of the most important bionic influencers, leading a better life through AI-assisted arms. We’re also joined by Wojtek Paprota, founder of Walletmor. This tech startup installs a legitimate payment solution for its users in the form of a bio-implant. Cashless cyborgs built out of sheer curiosity.

What do Tilly and Wojtek have in common, and where do they think the future of human augmentation lies?

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