Netflix 'Maniac': AdBuddy and Other Dystopic Tech That Exists in Real Life
Netflix’s trippy new series Maniac is set in a retrofuture that feels like it could be happening 20 years from now — or 20 years in the past — but the technology that dominates this alternate reality version of New York is depressingly real. From fake friends for-hire to one-way commercial space travel, much of the technology in Maniac feels pulled right from today’s headlines.
Here’s a look at eight different services and products that might seem farfetched in Maniac, but are actually all too real. Similar versions of these depressingly funny technologies have already made it to the mainstream, or are in the start-up stage or R&D mode right now.
Targeted advertising takes its logical next step in Maniac with AdBuddy, a company that lets you pay for other products and services by listening to some schlub read advertisements to you. Can’t afford a train ticket? Ride with an AdBuddy. Hungry? AdBuddy will pay for your lunch — if you listen to advertisements while you eat.
It’s a disturbing idea with real-world parallels. Until very recently, Amazon sold discounted smartphones that turned your lock screen into a billboard, and Google once patented a self-driving taxi that would show you ads in exchange for a free ride. The concept of trading your attention for ad money is already out there, AdBuddy just makes it worse by adding forced human interaction.
Another equally depressing tech-inspired service in Maniac is called FriendProxy, a fictional company that lets you hire random strangers to pretend to be your close friends. As one customer notes, “I have real friends, this is just more convenient.”
It may sound like science fiction, but services like FriendProxy are already real and thriving in Japan. An article published this spring in The New Yorker details how and why people hire actors to pretend to be their mothers, grandchildren, and husbands — whether it’s to fill up seats at a wedding or simply because they’re lonely.
An Animatronic Robot Koala That Plays Chess
This is a little out there, but the concept isn’t actually that unrealistic. There’s already A.I. capable of crushing even the smartest humans at games like chess, Go, and the video game Dota 2. Now that it exists, putting that tech into an animatronic koala should be relatively easy, right?
Commercial Space Travel
You might have missed it, but in the first episode when Jonah Hill rides the subway we see an ad for one-way tickets to the moon. “TIRED OF HERE?” the poster asks, promising flights for as little as $1,799. (Also, if you look closely at the subway map on the left you’ll notice that New York has been reshaped and Staten Island is gone, possibly due to climate change.)
In the real world, commercial space travel isn’t a reality yet, but we’re getting pretty close. SpaceX announced this month its plans to send the first private astronaut, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, around the moon in 2023. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are also racing to send tourists into space, though for the time being, it’s sure to cost a lot more than the price of a new iPhone.
Computers Capable of Developing Emotions
The emotional supercomputer in Maniac may seem like a classic sci-fi trope, but the concept of a computer that can feel isn’t as far-fetched as it once was. There are already robots capable of physical sensation, and some experts believe that emotions aren’t too far behind either.
The main plot of Maniac hinges on an experimental new psychoactive drug designed to replace traditional therapy. The science behind it is mostly made-up, but it is similar to some actual research. In the real world, scientists have even successfully combined MDMA with therapy to treat posttraumatic stress disorder.
Small Pooper Scooper Robots
If there’s one way the NY in Maniac beats the real city, it’s those poop-scooping robots. It’s unclear who operates them, but they seemingly patrol the streets for any sort of trash and quickly clean it up. We’re not quite there yet here in America, but in China, the first self-driving street cleaner trucks have already hit the streets of Shanghai. Now if someone can just shrink them down to the size of a small dog we’ll be set.
Maniac is streaming now on Netflix.