Episodes

  • In 2006 the creators of the alternate reality game, Perplex City set a puzzle challenge called Billion to One. With only one photograph and a first name players were tasked with using the internet to find out who the man was in the photo. Despite thousands of people looking for Satoshi he stayed hidden for 14 years until eventually, just before New Year in 2021 Tom Lucas in Germany used reverse image search and in under five minutes discovered who he was, where he lived, worked and how to contact him.

    This may be considered progress for those who want to be found but for people like Sian who live under Witness Protection, advancements in technology means stepping out of her house becomes a huge risk. Because we capture so much of our lives and put it online, where ever Sian goes she has to be vigilant she’s not caught on camera or video. Just one reverse image search could mean she is found, which could have dire consequences for her and her family.

    In Japan, Satoshi records his first interview since being found giving a voice to the Billion to One puzzle photo for the first time. Aleks finds out if Satoshi knew thousands of people were looking for him and how feels about being found?

    Producer Kate Bissell
    Researcher Juliet Conway

  • Dreams have fascinated people since the dawn of humanity, seen as prophetic, used by the ancient Greeks to diagnose illness before physical symptoms appeared, and inspiring some of the world’s greatest inventions and works of art.

    But dreams have a darker side. Often we meet our internalised anxieties in our sleeping subconscious. During the Pandemic there was a surge of people reporting having more dreams, especially vivid, nightmarish visions - facing down swarms of insects, swept away by title waves, or being overwhelmed and oppressed by unstoppable forces. At the same time, there was a spike in online searches for ways to induce lucid dreaming, and how to take control of dreams.

    Aleks Krotoski explores why we have this urge to take control of our dreams, how technology can influence us in our sleep, and finds out if it’s wise to really try to take control, when we’re still figuring out the purpose and mechanics of dreams and don’t yet know the consequences of tinkering with them.

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  • As we hunker down for the last period of lockdown novelty has never felt more absent from our lives. Aleks Krotoski explores its importance and asks if the digital world can actually provide it.

    Producer Peter McManus

  • Every time we seek treasure and eventually find, we get a hit of endorphins that tickles the happy parts of our brains.

    There are tales of extraordinary discoveries; King Tut’s tomb, The Mona Lisa, Viking gold. Incredible things that took ingenuity and dedication to uncover. Wouldn't it be remarkable to strike it lucky and find real treasure buried for hundreds or even thousands of years? Every rabbit hole we go down, every mystery we try to solve scratches that itch. It might be offline, or on. What does it look like? How do we find it? And is it wise to do so?

    Archaeologist Peter Reavill tells us about the discovery of an astonishing Viking hoard in Herefordshire, but like so many tales of treasure warn, it became a curse to those who found it. They chose to value secrecy about what they discovered digging up the hoard, higher than its historical value.

    Stefan from Germany is sitting on an unbelievable hoard of digital treasure - $371,000,000 but with only two goes left on his flash drive to guess the password, it became such a curse it drove him to contemplate ending it all.

    And alternate reality game developer Dan Hon introduces us to Perplex City, an online and offline treasure hunt which led Andy Darley to dig up a metal cube claim a£100,000 prize. Dan draws similarities between alternate reality games and how QAnon works and we hear from Leila who after becoming obsessed with QAnon explains how a search for information, patterns and connections became the digital equivalent of seeking treasure but became so toxic it started affecting her mental health until she managed to pull herself out of it.

    Producer Kate Bissell
    Researcher Juliet Conway

  • In the early days of the internet, trolls were nothing to fear. Comedians, tricksters, harmless pranksters ready to waste a little time or pounce on a typo. Some people enjoyed a bit of provocation to spark some spirited debate. You had flamers and griefers, but in general communities were good at booting out malicious actors, while leaving the trickers to their fun.

    But in 2021, things are very different. In the past, a random troll post on 4Chan would quickly sink into obscurity. Now, one proved the start of the QAnon movement that lead to an attempted coup in Washington DC.

    Malicious trolls are now the dominant type across our shared internet spaces, their numbers are rising, and their influence spreading both online and off, causing harm to both individuals and wider society.

    Aleks Krotoski explores troll evolution, finding out why maliciousness became an evolutionary advantage in the digital space, and asking what happens when being a troll is becoming the new normal.

  • Aleks Krotoski explores the power of toys and play in shaping our technological future.

    Apple's Tim Cook has said he began working on the smartwatch aged 5 after seeing the cartoon character Dick Tracy's wristwatch two way radio. So how much of our technological present has been prescribed by future visions of the past? Clearly many innovators imagination’s get fired up by childhood experiences but do they end up pursuing technologies that don’t actually solve the problems we’re facing? Or worse still, do they lock coming generations into futures where many key decisions have already been made and they’ll end up having to deal with them? Look at climate change.

    Aleks explores these ideas with Steven Johnson author of Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, Jonathon Keats experimental philosopher and founder and curator of The Museum of Future History and Valentina Boretti; a researcher who has been looking at how toys were used to shape the children that would create China’s industrial miracle.

    Producer: Peter McManus

  • Since March this year - 2020 - venues have been black. Performers and live audiences are separated by COVID-19. Had it lasted a week, maybe two, things might not have changed. But as with the rest of our lives, technology has had to step in to give a lifeline to those who make their living from live performance. Aleks asks whether streaming online commodifies and commercialises artists and cultural scenes by turning what they do into just more online content? Or will streaming, together with limitations, promote greater creativity from the re- imagining of performance through the use of technology, to engage and reach audiences?

    Producer Kate Bissell
    Researcher Juliet Conway

  • The monsters we create have always given us insight into what we're scared of in the world around us. Whether that's zombies igniting fears around racial tensions in the United States of the nineteen sixties or Dracula articulating a fear of the other and of immigration at the end of nineteenth century.

    Aleks Krotoski asks what those monsters born in tech tell us about our fears today.

    Producer: Peter McManus

  • In Maori culture, images and objects or treasures can come to embody a person. However when the Maori were first confronted with portrait photography they initially responded by hiding from the camera, fearful that their 'mauri', or life force, would be lost. Professor Deidre Brown explains though how the Maori began to see the new medium as an effective method of embodying the 'wairua', or everlasting spirit, of a person.

    Robin Finn was very close to her mother, they spoke to each other several times a day. After her mother's death Robin decided to keep their phone-mediated relationship alive and continued ringing her mum and leaving voicemails. Robin fantastically hoped that maybe these messages were being sent out into the cosmos and her mum would somehow receive them. For Robin, her mother's mobile helps to keep her 'Mauri', or life force, alive.

    David Glowacki is a Royal Society Research Fellow who runs the 'Intangible Realities Lab' at the University of Bristol. David is interested in aesthetic metaphors that guide scientific imagination. He believes this is particularly important in domains which cannot be seen with the naked eye, where our scientific intuition is guided by the aesthetic representations and metaphors we use to imagine phenomena which are otherwise invisible. David uses virtual reality to bring to life molecular physics and quantum dynamics, particularly in relation to the idea of matter and energy. David says watching colleagues interact with the virtual visualisations of molecular physics inspired him to design VR which explores how energy connects to the sacred.

    Aleks asks if technology really can give us a greater understanding of our relationship with the sacred.

    Producer Kate Bissell
    Researcher Juliet Conway

  • There's a perception that it’s always daytime on the internet. What that misses is that it’s not always the case for us when we go there. We gravitate to different parts of the digital world during the night. We slow down without the bombardment of emails updates and notifications.

    We become explorers of soundscapes on meditation apps, we listen to soft, soothing mumblings on podcasts lulling us to sleep. For those digital night owls, it’s an Alice like experience falling through a labyrinth of interconnected internet rabbit holes discovering subjects you wouldn’t even have thought about when the sun is up.

    In this episode Aleks celebrates 'noctunality' on the internet whether for those seeking sleep or those for whom this is the time to wake up.

    Producer: Peter McManus

  • If there’s one thing that makes the world go ‘round, it’s trust - trust in institutions, trust in science, trust in the economy, trust in each other. Trust is what protects our vulnerability; it’s behind the unspoken social contracts that keep us safe. Without trust, we’re done.

    And since the beginning of our love-hate relationship with the Web, we’ve been wondering: is computer-mediated communication eroding trust? Or, does it make trust stronger? Or, are we more likely to misplace it more now that we can’t see, touch and smell a person’s true intentions?

    Producer: Kate Bissell

  • The digital world has given us the tools to support one another through the coming financial crisis in the wake of the pandemic. Aleks Krotoski asks if crowd funding is a magic bullet for giving to those whose livelihoods have suffered?

    And what makes us give in the first place if it’s, as many are reporting, a new form of economic survivor guilt do we risk that being manipulated?

    Producer: Peter McManus

  • Aleks Krotoski asks if moving our lives online has given us a false sense of normality during these extraordinary times.

    For those of us lucky enough to be able to work, shop and socialise there our connections to the digital world have been a lifeline, keeping us in touch with what normality is or at least was. If lockdown had happened 15 years ago it might have been a very different story.

    Aleks explores the experiences of people who used technology to try and feel normal to see where it works and where it doesn't as well as investigating our whole concept of 'normal' and why we cling to it so desperately.

    Producer: Peter McManus
    Research: Elizabeth Ann Duffy and Anna Miles

  • Aleks Krotoski explores how the mechanics of the digital environment allow misinformation to swamp digital platforms.

    Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, they are all swamped with cheery, colourful ‘life hack’ and crafting videos, but if you watch for more than a few minutes you’ll see that actually trying to follow along would prove difficult, if not impossible. Much of the content isn’t even possible to do. And yet, it’s extraordinarily popular, and profitable content.

    Clickbait isn’t new, but this is potentially dangerous eye candy, and when you look beneath the surface, it’s possible to see that the same infrastructure and techniques have made life hacks go viral, can, in the wrong hands, be exploited for deliberately malicious ends.

    It only takes a few minutes to set up a system that can swamp the internet. Be it with unintentionally dangerous DIY suggestions aimed at children, or deliberate political machinations targeted at adults.

  • We are stuck in a moment. Inside our homes, the days can feel like they’re stretching ahead.

    Aleks Krotoski explores how technologies can lift us out of the mundane and help us regain a sense of control.

    Jan Scheuermann is a quadriplegic. She's unable to use her arms and legs and controls her wheelchair with her chin. In 2011 she joined a research trial that would change the way she saw herself and her life.

    We hear from Tom Mast, a college student whose new independent life was put on hold by a pandemic; Tiu de Haan, an ideas doula who has worked with the UN, who explains how building a den or cocoon can trigger daydreaming and help birth new ideas; and psychologist Eli Somer, who is an expert on daydreaming.

    Produced by Caitlin Smith and Kate Bissell
    Sound Design by Eloise Whitmore

  • Aleks explores whether the moment we're in is the internet’s greatest stress test.

    Can a network that was built to connect human beings through facts and figures support someone during their greatest hour of need?

    Philip Blackledge is a priest, who's been sitting with Covid-19 patients. He says the pain and separation he has witnessed has been heartbreaking but technology has offered a bridge between loved ones. Philip acknowledges, the grace the dying have shown in using technology to make peace with those they’re leaving behind, because of restrictions and separation, has been very moving. But he explains why we are asking technology to do a lot.

    Zainab Gulamali highlights how for the Muslim community mourning has been taken online, but there is much to navigate. Zainab tells how she accidentally ended up virtually attending a funeral of someone she didn’t know on instagram live. And Zainab describes how an online memorial for her Grandmother’s death allowed her for the first time to witness the emotion of older members of her family. She says that attending funerals online is a much more real and raw experience.

    Jay McGregor’s father, Jason Weatherman, a well known and respected DJ within the UK’s black community died during the pandemic and after an outpouring of grief from around the world, his family and friends decided to host the first ever customary Nine Nights celebration online. 25,000 people joined the live stream and Jay says this event gave her more comfort than anything following her father’s passing.

    This is not what the pioneers of the internet imagined - they thought they would build a global community to share information but what they did - and we didn’t believe it until now - was to create a technology that is a bridge for love.

    Produced by Kate Bissell

  • For the entirety of human history, we have made tools and those tools have then shaped us. But in the digital age, that ancient feedback loop has become more complicated.

    We are fully conscious of the impact our tools can have on us, and we have the chance to guide our future symbiotic relationship with out technology, in a way that expands our cognitive capacity, creativity and skills that would make us fulfill our untapped potential as a species.

    But is that possible when the vast majority of us have become detached from the development of our technology? What happens to the ancient feedback loop when we are being shaped by obscure devices, in an age of digital blackboxes?

    Aleks Krotoski explores the history of how we have been shaped by tool development, and discovers how we can plug back into the process, and shape out symbiotic future.

  • We’ve heard a lot about “disruption” over the last few years - companies upending, institutions and entrepreneurs revolutionising some of the things that we thought always were and always should be. Technology has been the poster child of these rapid social and economic changes. But disruption existed before Silicon Valley co-opted the word - it was change, that accelerated something, unexpected. It was something that exposed the cracks in our expectations and changed things, sometimes forever.

    Two big thinkers, James Burke and Pico Iyer join Aleks to explore whether the pandemic provides the opportunity to think about how we can restructure our lives and our societies. Whether it gives us the chance to embrace disruption, and to reflect on what new ways of being are available to us on the other side. Is what is important to each of us becoming clear... if we choose to listen to it?

    Produced by Kate Bissell and Mark Rickards

  • Since Britain went into lock down, people in emotionally and physically abusive relationships are having to spend more time with their partners in a confined space. Police forces in England and Wales say they've seen a dramatic spike in reports of domestic abuse.

    The Digital Human speaks with survivors of these relationships and asks them how technology extended the reach of abusers. We hear how it is used as a tool to coerce, control and manipulate, but also how it can be used by the victim for advice and support.

    Producer: Kate Bissell
    Researcher: Juliet Conway

    Details of organisations offering information and support with domestic violence are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 888 809

  • For decades, technologists, futurists and even our favourite science ficti has been predicting that technology will do away with the drudgery of work, take care of our basic day to day needs and create a world where scarcity will be a thing of the past.

    The media has been focused on the economic impact of these new tech advances, but we should be asking a different question. Who will we be in an age of plenty?