Brain Upload

Once Johnny has installed his motion detector on the door, the brain upload can begin.

3. Building it

Johnny starts by opening his briefcase and removing various components, which he connects together into the complete upload system. Some of the parts are disguised, and the whole sequence is similar to an assassin in a thriller film assembling a gun out of harmless looking pieces.

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It looks strange today to see a computer system with so many external devices connected by cables. We’ve become accustomed to one piece computing devices with integrated functionality, and keyboards, mice, cameras, printers, and headphones that connect wirelessly.

Cables and other connections are not always considered as interfaces, but “all parts of a thing which enable its use” is the definition according to Chris. In the early to mid 1990s most computer user were well aware of the potential for confusion and frustration in such interfaces. A personal computer could have connections to monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem, CD drive, and joystick – and every single device would use a different type of cable. USB, while not perfect, is one of the greatest ever improvements in user interfaces. Continue reading

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Nucleolab Kill Switch

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General Munro isn’t sure what’s going to come out of the other end of Mactilburgh’s process. He’s never seen a Mondoshawan and doesn’t know if they can be trusted. Fortunately for his sense of panic, there’s a built in kill switch on the control panel facing the nucleolab chamber. To activate the switch, he slips his multipass into a slot. While this card is in the slot, a small red LED lights, and the Big Red Button is active.

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The interface is simple to read, which is nice. The button conveys a bit of its importance through its size and color. The order of operations is well laid out for a Western user: left to right, in the order of reading.

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Three improvements

There are lots of questions about the security strategy, though. Single-factor authentication is too easy to thwart. Couldn’t someone just take his multipass and use it? How does the system know it’s really Munro? Better would be multifactor authentication, requiring both this token and either a knowledge token like a password, or an inheritance factor. Maybe it could require Munro to place his other hand on a handprint reader before the button activates.

Another problem is that the signal that this button is active is too tiny: that little red LED that’s associated with the slot rather than the button. If this is an undoable action, you’d hope that the input would convey the sense of risk. Maybe have the button glow, or surround it with a glowing red ring (think the Krell warning system)?

If it really is a kill switch, i.e. would kill the subject, a nice safeguard against accidental activation would be a press-and-hold button, requiring Munro to hold it down for a few seconds while a warning klaxon sounds. This would give Munro the opportunity to change his mind or move his hand if he’d placed it accidentally. If it triggers something nonlethal, like an incapacitating sticky foam, then no such delay is necessary.