Section No9’s crappy security

GitS-Sec9_security-01

The heavily-mulleted Togusa is heading to a company car when he sees two suspicious cars in the parking basement. After sizing them up for a moment, he gets into his car and without doing anything else, says,

"Security, whose official vehicles are parked in the basement garage?"

It seems the cabin of the car is equipped to continuously monitor for sound, and either an agent from security is always waiting, listening at the other end, or by addressing a particular department by name, a voice recognition system instantly routs him to an operator in that department, who is able to immediately respond:

"They belong to Chief Nakamura of the treaties bureau and a Dr. Willis."

"Give me the video record of their entering the building."

In response, a panel automatically flips out of the dashboard to reveal a monitor, where he can watch the the security footage. He watches it, and says,

"Replay, infrared view"

After watching the replay, he says,

"Send me the pressure sensor records for basement garage spaces B-7 and 8."

The screen then does several things at once. It shows a login screen, for which his username is already supplied. He mentally supplies his password. Next a menu appears on a green background with five options: NET-WORK [sic], OPTICAL, PRESSURE, THERMO, and SOUND. "PRESSURE" highlights twice with two beeps. Then after a screen-green 3D rendering of Section 9 headquarters builds, the camera zooms around the building and through floorplans to the parking lot to focus on the spaces, labeled appropriately. Togusa watches as pea green bars on radial dials bounce clockwise, twice, with a few seconds between.

The login

Sci-fi logins often fail for basic multifactor authentication, and at first it appears that this screen only has two parts: a username and password. But given that Togusa connects to the system first vocally and then mentally, it’s likely that one of these other channels supplies a third level of authentication. Also it seems odd to have him supply a set of characters as the mental input. Requiring Togusa to think a certain concept might make more sense, like a mental captcha.

The zoom

Given that seconds can make a life-or-death difference and that the stakes at Section 9 are so high, the time that the system spends zooming a camera around the building all the way to the locations is a waste. It should be faster. It does provide context to the information, but it doesn’t have to be distributed in time. Remove the meaningless and unlabeled dial in the lower right to gain real estate, and replace it with a small version of the map that highlights the area of detail. Since Togusa requested this information, the system should jump here immediately and let him zoom out for more detail only if he wants it or if the system wants him to see suspect information.

The radial graphs

The radial graphs imply some maximum to the data, and that Nakamura’s contingent hits some 75% of it. What happens if the pressure exceeds 37 ticks? Does the floor break? (If so, it should have sent off structural warning alarms at the gate independently of the security question.) But presumably Section 9 is made of stronger stuff than this, and so a different style of diagram is called for. Perhaps remove the dial entirely and just leave the parking spot labels and the weight. Admittedly, the radial dial is unusual and might be there for consistency with other, unseen parts of the system.

Moreover, Togusa is interested in several things: how the data has changed over time, when it surpassed an expected maximum, and by how much. This diagram only addresses one of them, and requires Togusa to notice and remember it himself. A better diagram would trace this pressure reading across time, highlighting the moments when it passed a threshold. (This parallels the issues of medical monitoring highlighted in the book, Chapter 12, Medicine.)

SECURITY_redo

Even better would be to show this data over time alongside or overlaid with any of the other feeds, like a video feed, such that Togusa doesn’t have to make correlations between different feeds in his head. (I’d have added it to the comp but didn’t have source video from the movie.)

The ultimately crappy Section No9 security system

Aside from all these details of the interface and interaction design, I have to marvel at the broader failings of the system. This is meant to be the same bleeding-edge bureau that creates cyborgs and transfers consciousnesses between them? If the security system is recording all of this information, why is it not being analyzed continuously, automatically? We can presume that object recognition is common in the world from a later scene in which a spider tank is able to track Kunasagi. So as the security system was humming along, recording everything, it should have also been analyzing that data, noting the discrepancy between of the number of people it counted in any of the video feeds, the number of people it counted passing through the door, and the unusual weight of these "two" people. It should have sent a warning to security at the gate of the garage, not relied on the happenstance of Togusa’s hunch and good timing.

This points to a larger problem that Hollywood has with technology being part of its stories. It needs heroes to be smart and heroic, and having them simply respond to warnings passed along by smart system can seem pointedly unheroic. But as technology gets smarter and more agentive, these kinds of discrepancies are going to break believability and get embarassing.

REAL TIME FULL SCAN HACKING

GitS-cybrain-06

When Section 9 monitors a cyborg’s brain for real-time evidence of hacking, we see a monitoring scan. It shows a screen-green wireframe brain floating at an oblique angle in a black space. A 2D rectangle repeatedly builds it with a “wipe” from front to back, which leaves a dim 3D trail in its passing that describes the brain shape. Fans of the National Library of Medicine’s The Visible Human Project may see similarities, though the project’s visualizations would not be available until a year after the film’s release.

In the upper left is a legend reading, “REAL TIME FULL SCAN HACKING” with some numbers, with another unintelligible legend in the lower right. The values in the upper left never change, and the values in the lower legend change too rapidly to read them. After a beat, a text overlay appears on the right hand side of the screen with vaguely-medical terms listed in all capital letters, flying by too quickly to read*. There is an additional device seen in the corner of the frame, with progress-bar-like displays with thick green lines that wobble left and right. Two waveforms hang above this, their labels off screen. Yellow “fireworks” appear near the “temples” of the brain, indicating the parts under attack.

A question of usefulness

If data doesn’t change or changes too fast to read, it is worth asking if the data should be shown at all. If it’s moving too fast, other representations might work better, like a progress bar, a map, or sparkline. Of course, we know that many programmers may use this kind of output during the run of a program so that if the program stops, the last few activities may be immediately known, so this may be more code than interface.

*Vaguely-medical terms

If you’re the sort of nerd who obsesses over details, following is the text that flashes on the right hand side of the display. There’s nothing in it that is really helpful or informative to a review. It’s mostly internal organs or parts of the brain augmented with “CHECKS” and “CONNECTS”. There’s one exception, about halfway through the 5-second sequence, where it reads “M.YGODDESS CHECK.” Diegetically, it could be a programmers slang for a body part. More likely it’s a reference to Oh! My Goddess!, a manga by Kosuke Fujishima that’s been in print since 1988.

GitS-cybrain-07

ACCESS
CHECK CONNECT
MOTOR FIBERS CHECK
CONNECT POINT NCL
NCL. AMBIGUOUS
SEARCH AN ARTFICIAL B
NCL. AMBIGUOUS CHECK
AN ARTIFICIAL BODY’S PO
GANGLION SUPERIUS CHECK
NO REJECTION
FORAMEN JUGULARE PAG
GANGLION INFERIUS
GANGLION INFERIUS
PROPER VOLTAGE
RAMIPHARMNGEI CAL.L.D
N. LARYNGEUS SUPERIOR
RAMIPHARYNGI CHECK
PLEXUS PHARYNGEUS CHECK
PLEXUS PHARYNGEUS CHECK
NEXT
M.LEVATOR VELI PALAT
MM.CONSTRICTORES PHA
CALLING…
M.LEVATOR VELI PALAT
MM.CONSTRICTORES PHA
CONNECT
N.LARYNGEUS SUPERIOR
N.LARYNGEUS RECURRE
RAMUS EXTERNUS CHECK
NEXT
M.CIRCOTHYROIDEUS
RAMIESOPHAGEI CALLIN
N.LARYNGEUS RECURRED
NO REJECTION
CHECK FEEDBACK TO
NCL. AMBIGUUS
RAMITRACHEALES CHEC
FEEDBACK TO NCL. AMBI
RAMIESOPHAGEI CHECK
NEXT
N.LARYNGEUS INFERIOR
CONNECT N.VAGUS MOTOR
CHECK OVER
EXTEROCEPTIVE SENSOR
CHECK STRAT
CONNECT POINT NCL
NCL. SPINALIS N TRIG
SEARCH AN ARTIFICAL B
NCL.SPINALIS N.TRIGG
CHECK
AN ARTIFICIAL BODY’S PO
TR.SPINALIS N. TIGGER
NO REJECTION
TR.SPINALIS N.TRIGE
CANALICULUS MASTOID
VISCEROMOTOR FIBERS
CANALICULUS MASTOIDS
CONNECT POINT NCL
NCL. DORSALIS N. VAGI
RAMUS AURICULARIS CH
CHECK FEEDBACK TO
NCL. SPINALIS N. TRIGEG
SEARCH AN ARTIFICIAL B
N. VAGUS ENERROCEPTIN
FEEDBACK TO
NCL. SPINALIS TRIGER
CHECK OVER
ANARTIFICAL BODY’S PO
NCL.DORSAL IS N. VAGI
GANGLION SUPERIUS
NO REJECTION
GANGLION SUPERIUS CH
FORAMEN JUGULARE PAS
GANGLION INFERIUS CHE
SAFETY CONNECT PROGR
RAMICORDIACICERVICA
CALLING…
RAMICORDIACICERVICA
NO REJECTION
NEXT
RAMICORDIACICERVICA
CALLING…
PLESUS CARDIACUS CAL
RAMICORDIACICERVICA
PLESUS CARDIACUS CHE
M. ATSUMO TOKAORU CHE
ATOMIC DISPOSITION C
M.YGODDESS CHECK
CHECK OVER
GUSTATORY FIBERS
CHECK STRAT
CONNECT POINT NCL.
NCL. SOLITARIUS
SEARCH AN ARTIFICAIAL B
NCL. SOLITARIUS CHECK
AN ARTIFICIAL BODY’S PO
GANGLION SUPERIUS
NO NOIZE
NEXT
GANGLION SUPERIUS CH
FORAMEN JUGULARE PRE
GANGLION INFERIUS CHE
GANGLION INFERIUS CHE
RAMIPHARYNGEI CALLING
RAMIPHARYNGEI CHECK
PLEXUS PHARYNGEUS CA
NO REJECTION
PLEXUS PHARYNGEUS CH
TASTE BUDS CALLING
CHECK FEEDBACK TO
NCL. SOLITARIUS
TASTE BUDS CONNECT
FEEDBACK NCL. SOLITAR
CHECK OVER
VISCEPOSENSORY FIBER
CHECK STRAT
CONNECT POINT NCL
NCL SOLITARIUS
SEACH AN ARTIFICIAL B
NCL. SOLITARIUS CHECK
AN ARTIFICIAL BODY’S PO
TRACTUS SOLITARIUS C
NO NOIZE
TRACTUS SOLITARIUS C
GANGLION SUPERIUS CA
NO REJECTION
GANGLION SUPERIUS CH
FORAMEN JUGULARE PAS
GANGLION INFERIUS CA
N.LARYNGEUS SUPERIOR
N.LARYNGEUS RECURRED
PLEXUS PULMONAL IS CA
N. LARYNGEUS RECURRED
RAMIESOPHAGUI CALLI
N. LARYNGEYS INFERIOR
RAMITRACHEALES SUPERIOR
RAMUS INTERNUS CALLI
PLEXUS INTERNUS CALLI
PLEXUS PULMONALIS CH
PLEXUS ESOPHAGEUS CA
RAMIESOPHAGEI CHECK
N.LARYNGEUS INFERIOR
PLEXUS EXOPHAGEUS CH
TRUNCUS VAGALIS POST
RAMITRACHEALES CHEC
TRUNCUS VAGALIS ANTE
RAMUS INTERNUS CHECK
VOCAL CORO CALLING
TRUNCUS VAGALIS POST
RAMICOEL CALLING
RAMIRENALES CALLING
TRUNCUS VAGALIS ANTE
RAMIHEPATICI CHECK
PLEXUS HAPATICUS CAL
RAMIGASTRICIPOSTER
RAMIRENALES CHECK
PLEXUS RENALIS CALLI
RAMICOELIACI CHECK
PLEXUS COELICUS CALL
RAMIHEPATICI CHECK
PLEXUSHEPATICUS CALL
RAMIGASTRICI ANTERIO
PLEXUS COELICUS CHEC
RAMI GASTRICIPOSTER
PLEXUS RENALIS CHECK
RAMIGASTRICI ANTERIO
CHECK FEEDBACK TO
BCL. SOLITARUS
PLEXUS HEPATICUS CHE
FEEDBACK TO NCL. SOLIT
VOCAL CORD CHECK
CHECK OVER
CHECK CONNECT
MOTOR FIBERS CHECK
CONNECT POINT NCL
NCL. AMBIGUUS
SEARCH AN ARTIFICAL B
NCL.AMBIGUOUS CHECK
AN ARTIFICAL BODY’S
GANGLION SUPERIUS CA
GANGLION SUPERIUS CH
NO REJECTION
FORAMEN JUGULARE PAS
GANGLION INFERIUS CAL
GANGLION INFERIUS CHE
PROPER VOLTAGE

Floating-pixel displays

In other posts we compared the human and alien VPs of Prometheus. They were visually distinct from each other, with the alien “glowing pollen” displays being unique to this movie.

There is a style of human display in Prometheus that looks similar to the pollen. Since the users of these displays don’t perceive these points in 3D, it’s more precise to call it a floating-pixel style. These floating-pixel displays appear in three places.

  • David’s Neurovisor for peering into the dreams of the hypersleeping Shaw. (Note this may be 3D for him.)
  • The landing-sequence topography displays
  • The science lab scanner, used on the alien head
Prometheus-007
Prometheus-096
Prometheus-165

There is no diegetic reason offered in the movie for the appearance of an alien 3D display technology in human 2D systems. When I started to try and explain it, it quickly drifted away from interaction design and into fan theory, so I have left it as an exercise for the reader. But there remains a question about the utility of this style.

Poor cues for understanding 3D

Floating, glowing points are certainly novel to our survey as a way to describe 3D shapes for users. And in the case of the alien pollen, it makes some sense. Seeing these in the world, our binocular vision would help us understand the relationships of each point as well as the gestalt, like walking around a Christmas tree at night.

But in 2D, simple points are not ideal for understanding 3D surfaces. Especially when the pixels are all the same apparent size. We normally use the small bits of scale to help us understand an object’s relative distance from us. Though the shape can be kind-of inferred through motion, it still creates a great deal of visual noise. It also hurts when the points are too far apart. It doesn’t give us a gestalt sense of surface.

I couldn’t find any scientific studies of the readability of this style, this is my personal take on it. But we also can look to the real world, namely to the history of maps, where cartographers have wrestled with similar problems to show topography. Centuries of their trial-and-error have resulted in four primary techniques for describing 3D shapes on a 2D surface: hachures, contour lines, hypsometric tints, and shaded relief.

(images from http://www.siskiyous.edu/shasta/map/map/)
(images from http://www.siskiyous.edu/shasta/map/map/)

These styles utilize lines, shades, and colors to describe topography, and notably not points. Even modern 3D modeling software uses tessellated wireframes instead of floating points as a lightweight rendering technique. To my knowledge, only geographic information systems display anything similar, and that’s only when the user wants to see actual data points.

These anecdotal bits of evidence combine with my observations of these interfaces in Prometheus to convince me that while it’s stylistically unique (and therefore useful to the filmmakers), it’s seriously suboptimal for real-world adoption.

Neuro-Visor

The second interface David has to monitor those in hypersleep is the Neuro-Visor, a helmet that lets him perceive their dreams. The helmet is round, solid, and white. The visor itself is yellow and back-lit. The yellow is the same greenish-yellow underneath the hypersleep beds and clearly establishes the connection between the devices to a new user. When we see David’s view from inside the visor, it is a cinematic, fully-immersive 3D projection of events in her dreams, that is presented in the “spot elevations” style that is predominant throughout the film (more on this display technique later).

Later in the movie we see David using this same helmet to communicate with Weyland who is in a hypersleep chamber, but Weyland is somehow conscious enough to have a back-and-forth dialogue with David. We don’t see either David’s for Weyland’s perspective in the scene.

David communicated with Weyland.

As an interface, the helmet seems straightforward. He has one Neuro-Visor for all the hypersleep chambers, and to pair the device to a particular one, he simply touches the surface of the chamber near the hyper sleeper’s head. Cyan interface elements on that translucent interface confirm the touch and presumably allow some degree of control of the visuals. To turn the Neuro-Visor off, he simply removes it from his head. These are simple and intuitive gestures that makes the Neuro-Visor one of the best and most elegantly designed interfaces in the movie.