Remote wingman via EYE-LINK

EYE-LINK is an interface used between a person at a desktop who uses support tools to help another person who is live “in the field.” (Quite like Vika and Jack in Oblivion, or like the software in Sight.)

In this scene, we see EYE-LINK used by a pick-up artist, Matt, who acts as a remote “wingman” for pick-up student Harry. Matt has a group video chat interface open with paying customers eager to lurk, comment, and learn from the master.

Harry’s interface

Harry wears a hidden camera and microphone. This is the only tech he seems to have on him, only hearing his wingman’s voice, and only able to communicate back to his wingman by talking generally, talking about something he’s looking at, or using pre-arranged signals.

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Tap your beer twice if this is more than a little creepy.

Matt’s interface

Matt has a three-screen setup:

  1. A big screen (similar to the Samsung Series 9 displays) which shows a live video image of Harry’s view.
  2. A smaller transparent information panel for automated analysis, research, and advice.
  3. An extra, laptop-like screen where Matt leads a group video chat with a paying audience, who are watching and snarkily commenting on the wingman scenario. It seems likely that this is not an official part of the EYE-LINK software.

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Please make a note of the hilarious and condemning screen names of the peanut gallery: Pie Ape, Popkorn, El Nino, Nixon, Fappucino [sic], Stingray, I_AM_WALDO, and Wigwam.

Harry communicates to Matt by speaking or enacting a crude sign language for the video camera. Matt communicates back to Harry using an audiolink through a headset. Setting up the connection is similar to Skype/Hangouts (even featuring an icon of an archaic laptop.) Every first-person EYE-LINK view is characterized by a pixelated gradient at the sides of the screen.

Matt’s wingman support tools

We see that Matt has a number of tools to help him act as a remote wingman for Harry, evident through six main navigation items on his side screen…A home icon, Web, News, Image, Video, and Social Media. The home icon is always bright white, but the section he’s currently viewing is a bolded gray.  

In the Image mode, it runs a face recognition on a still image from Matt’s video feed, and provides its best match for further research.

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Somehow he can also get information on the event that Harry is attending. In this view, there’s a floor plan of the venue, which Matt can use to instruct Harry.

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OK. This is of course a creepy use of this interface, but it’s easy to imagine scenarios where something like the EYE-LINK is used virtuously:

  • A nurse practitioner needing to call on the expertise of a remote, more senior caregiver.
  • An airplane maintenance worker needing to speak to the aircraft engineers about a problem she’s encountering.
  • Paintball players coordinating their game through a centralized team captain.

So with that in mind, let’s review this with the caveat that of course the specific wingman scenario is super creepy.

Analysis: Harry’s feedback

The communication channel back from Harry to Matt doesn’t need to be too rich for these purposes, but there are ways that it could be richer. Of course Harry could pick up his phone and simply type something that Matt could see. But if the communication needed to be undetectable to a casual observer, there are other options. Subvocalization is nascent, but a possibility and mostly-natural for the speaker.

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Image courtesy of the NASA Ames Research demo of subvocalization.

If the remote user has time for training, subgestural detection might be another option. This is like subvocal detection, but instead of detecting throat movements used in speech, it would be an armband (like the Myo) that could detect gentle finger presses allowing the user chorded keyboard input which he could use while, say, gripping the beer bottle.

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Either way, richer “undetectable” communication mechanisms exist, and could be incorporated.

Analysis: Graphics

One of the refreshing things about the interfaces in Black Mirror generally—and these screens in particular—is how understated they are, especially compared to the Roccoco interfaces that populate much of sci-fi. (Compare the two below.)

The color palette is spartan grayscale. The typeface is Helvetica (or adjacent). Nothing 3D, nothing swoopy, no complexity for complexity’s sake.

Analysis: Navigation and layout

The navigation for the information panel is a little confusing. Sure, it looks like lots of websites. But this chunking of information into separate screens requires that Matt hunt for information that’s of interest. Better would be to have a single, dynamic screen, and have the system do real-time parsing, providing suggestions and notifications in the context of the event. If he needed to dive down into some full-screen mode, let it fill the screen with some easy way to return to context.

Also, how did he get to the event view? Is that just a web view? What bar puts its floorplan on its site? There is no primary navigation element that would on first glance explain how he got there, or once there, how he might get back to other screens. The home icon is obscured. (Maybe this is designed by Apple, though, and has some entirely hidden swipe gesture or long press to request the event screen or force a return to home?) It’s really hard to say, and so fails affordance.

Analysis: Group chat

A quick look at any modern group video chat software shows that this is too pared down, with lots of controls for audio and video controls missing, as well as controls for the “meeting.” It’s possible that these appear only if Matt interacts with the cursor on that laptop, but again, affordances.

Analysis: More wingman tools?

There are more tools that would be useful to a wingman’s job, which could be built even now—without the strong AI that this diegesis has. They could be more virtuous, like…

  • Ways to keep Harry calm, focused, and feeling confident.
  • Reminders of general best practices for making a good impression.
  • Automatic privacy blackout when Harry approaches people for conversation.

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Or they could be…uh…more questionable. (Here I’ll confess to referencing The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss, for how a real PUA might handle it.)

  • A transcript of the conversation with key phrases highlit, indicating the “target’s” attitudes and levels of interest.
  • Personality analysis on social media, listing derived topics that these particular “targets” would find engaging.
  • A list of Harry’s practiced “routines” for Matt to quickly review, and suggest. The AI could even highlight its best-guess suggestion.
  • Counts of “indicators of interest.”
  • An overview of Matt’s favored stages of pickup, with an indicator of where Harry is and how well he performed on the prior stages.

Either way, the support that these tools are offering are pretty minimal compared to what could be done, but then again, that kind of fits the story. Yes, the creepiness of the remote wingman support tools is part of the point. But the whole reason the peanut gallery pays for the honor of watching Matt coach Harry is (yes, voyeurism, but also) to witness a master wingman at his work. If the system was too much of a support, the peanut gallery would be less incentivized to pay to see him in action.

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