Pregnancy Test

Another incidental interface is the pregnancy test that Joe finds in the garbage. We don’t see how the test is taken, which would be critical when considering its design. But we do see the results display in the orange light of Joe and Beth’s kitchen. It’s a cartoon baby with a rattle, swaying back and forth.

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Sure it’s cute, but let’s note that the news of a pregnancy is not always good news. If the pregnancy is not welcome, the “Lucky you!” graphic is just going to rip her heart out. Much better is an unambiguous but neutral signal.

That said, Black Mirror is all about ripping our hearts out, so the cuteness of this interface is quite fitting to the world in which this appears. Narratively, it’s instantly recognizable as a pregnancy test, even to audience members who are unfamiliar with such products. It also sets up the following scene where Joe is super happy for the news, but Beth is upset that he’s seen it. So, while it’s awful for the real world; for the show, this is perfect.

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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

Ghost-hacking by public terminal

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The garbage collector who is inadvertently working for Ghost Hacker takes a break during his work to access the network by public terminal. The terminal is a small device, about a third of a meter across, mounted on a pole about a meter high and surrounded by translucent casing to protect it from the elements and keep the screen private. Parts are painted red to make it identifiable in the visual chaos of the alleyway.

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After pressing a series of buttons and hearing corresponding DTMF, or Touch-Tones, he inserts a card into a horizontal slot labeled “DATA” in illuminated green letters. The card is translucent with printed circuitry and a few buttons. The motorized card reader pulls the card in, and then slides it horizontally along a wide slot while an illuminated green label flashes that it is INSPECTING the card. When it is halfway along this horizontal track, a label on the left illuminates COMPRESS.

On a multilayer, high-resolution LCD screen above, graphics announce that it is trying to CONNECT and then providing ACCESS, running a section of the “cracking software” that the garbage collector wishes to run. After he is done with ACCESS, he removes the card and gets back to work.

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From a certain perspective, there’s nothing wrong with this interaction. He’s able to enter some anonymous information up front, and then process the instructions on the card. It’s pretty ergonomic for a public device. It provides him prompts and feedback of process and status. He manages its affordances and though the language is cryptic to us, he seems to have no problem.

Where the terminal fails is that it gives him no idea that it’s doing something more than he realizes, and that something more is quite a bit more illegal than he’s willing to risk. Had it given him some visualization of what was being undertaken, he might have stopped immediately, or at least have returned to his “friend” to ask what was going on. Of course the Ghost Hacker is, as his name says, a powerful hacker, and might have been able to override the visualization. But with no output, even novice hackers could dupe the unknowing because they are uninformed.

Good morning, Korben

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Korben’s alarm clock is a transparent liquid-crystal display that juts out from a panel at the foot of his bed. When it goes off, it emits a high-pitched repetitive whine. To silence it, Korben must sit up and pinch it between his fingers.

There’’s some subtle, wicked effeciveness to that deactivation. Like a regular alarm clock, the tactic is to emit some annoying sound that persists until the sleeper can rouse themselves enough to turn off the alarm. The usual problem with this tactic is that the sleeper is stupefied in his half-awakeness. If he can sleepily stop the alarm and just go back to sleep, he’ll do it. This clock dissuades sleepy flailing with its sharp-ish corners. After just a few times trying to do that and failing, the scratches on his hand will teach him. Even if the motion is memorized, the sleeper has to wake enough to target it properly and execute the simple but precise input.

The display itself shows the time in astronomical format, i.e. “02:00”, the date (Director Luc Besson‘s birthday), “18 MAR 2263″, and a temperature, 27.5° C.” Since this is quite warm, I presume this is the temperature outside.

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Once Korben cancels the alarm, his apartment comes to life. Heavy-beat music begins to play and lights automatically illuminate near the fake-fish tank above the stove and in his cigarette dispenser.

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All these signals combine to make it difficult for sleepy Korben to stay in bed past when awake Korben knows he should be up and moving.