Brain Scanning

The second half of the film is all about retrieving the data from Johnny’s implant without the full set of access codes. Johnny needs to get the data downloaded soon or he will die from the “synaptic seepage” caused by squeezing 320G of data into a system with 160G capacity. The bad guys would prefer to remove his head and cryogenically freeze it, allowing them to take their time over retrieval.

1 of 3: Spider’s Scanners

The implant cable interface won’t allow access to the data without the codes. To bypass this protection requires three increasingly complicated brain scanners, two of them medical systems and the final a LoTek hacking device. Although the implant stores data, not human memories, all of these brain scanners work in the same way as the Non-invasive, “Reading from the brain” interfaces described in Chapter 7 of Make It So.

The first system is owned by Spider, a Newark body modification
specialist. Johnny sits in a chair, with an open metal framework
surrounding his head. There’s a bright strobing light, switching on
and off several times a second.

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Nearby a monitor shows a large rotating image of his head and skull, and three smaller images on the left labelled as Scans 1 to 3. Continue reading

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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

The Memory Doubler

In Beijing, Johnny steps into a hotel lift and pulls a small package out his pocket. He unwraps it to reveal the “Pemex MemDoubler”.

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Johnny extends the cable from the device and plugs it into the implant in his head. The socket glows red once the connection is made.

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Continue reading

Headrest jack

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The jack mechanism in the intercept van is worth noting for its industrial design. Kusanagi has four jacks on the back of her neck in a square pattern. Four plugs sit on the headrest of her seat. To jack in, she simply leans back, and they seat perfectly. She leans forward, and the cables extend from the seat. Given the simple back and forward motion, it takes all of a second. Seems simple enough. But I’ve committed a blog post to it, so of course you can guess it’s not really that simple. I can see two issues with this interface.

How do the jacks and plugs meet so perfectly?

Of course, she’s a super cyborg, so we can presume she can be quite precise in her movements. But does she have eyes/cameras on the back of her head, or precision kinesthetics and a perfect body memory for position? Even if she does, it would be better would be to accommodate some margin of error to account for bumpy roads or action-packed driving maneuvers.

How to do this? One way would be a countersink so that a sloppy approach is corrected by shape. The popular (and difficult-to-source) keyhole for drunk people uses this same principle. Unfortunately, in the case of this headrest jack, the base object is Kusanagi’s neck, which is functionally a cylinder. The cones on the back of her neck would have to be unsightly large or a miss would splay the plugs and force her to retry. Fortunately, the second issue leads us to another solution.

keyhole

How does she genuinely rest against the seat when she doesn’t want to jack in?

Is that even an option here? How does she simply lean back for a road trip nap without being blasted awake by a neon green 3D Google Map?

If it was a magnetic connection, like Apple’s MagSafe power connectors, the jacks and plugs could be designed such that magnetic forces pull them together. But unlike MagSafe, these jacks could be electromagnets controlled by Kusanagi. This would not only ensure intended connections, but also help deal with the precision issues raised above. The electromagnets would snap the plugs into place even if they were misaligned.

MagSafe

An electromagnetic interface would also answer the question of how this works for taller or shorter cyborgs hoping to use the same headrest jack.

An automated solution

This solution does require complex mechanics in the body of the rider. That’s no problem for the Ghost in the Shell diegesis, but if we were facing a challenge like this in the real world, implanting users with tech isn’t a viable solution. Instead, we could push the technology back on the van by letting it do the aiming. In the half a second she leans back, the van itself can look through a camera in the headrest to gauge the fit, and position the plugs correctly with, say, linear actuators. This solution lets human users stay human, but would ensure a precision fit where it was needed.