Tattoo surveillance

In the prior Idiocracy post I discussed the car interface, especially in terms of how it informs the passengers what is happening when it is remotely shut down. Today let’s talk about the passive interface that shuts it down: Namely, Joe’s tattoo and the distance-scanning vending machine.

It’s been a while since that prior post, so here’s a recap of what’s happening in Idiocracy in this scene:

When Frito is driving Joe and Rita away from the cops, Joe happens to gesture with his hand above the car window, where a vending machine he happens to be passing spots the tattoo. Within seconds two harsh beeps sound in the car and a voice says, “You are harboring a fugitive named NOT SURE. Please, pull over and wait for the police to incarcerate your passenger.”

Frito’s car begins slowing down, and the dashboard screen shows a picture of Not Sure’s ID card and big red text zooming in a loop reading PULL OVER.

It’s a fast scene and the beat feels more like a filmmaker’s excuse to get them out of the car and on foot as they hunt for the Time Masheen. I breezed by it in an earlier post, but it bears some more investigation.

This is a class of transaction where, like taxes and advertising, the subject is an unwilling and probably uncooperative participant. But this same interface has to work for payment, in which the subject is a willing participant. Keep this in mind as we look first at the proximate problem, i.e. locating the fugitive for apprehension; and at the ultimate goal, i.e. how a culture deals with crime.

A quick caveat: While it’s fair to say I’m an expert on interaction design, I’m Just a Guy when it comes to criminology and jurisprudence. And these are ideas with some consequence. Feel free to jump in and engage in friendly debate on any of these points.

Proximate problem: Finding the fugitive

The red scan is fast, but it’s very noticable. The sudden flash of light, the red color. This could easily tip a fugitive off and cause them to redouble efforts at evasion, maybe even covering up the tattoo, making the law’s job of apprehending them that much harder. Better would be some stealthier means of detection like RFID chips. I know, that’s not as cinegenic, so the movie version would instead use image recognition, showing the point of view from the vending machine camera (machine point of view or MPOV), with some UI clues showing it identifying, zooming in to, and confirming the barcode.

Yes, that’s a shout-out.

So we can solve stealth-detection cinematically, using tropes. But anytime a designer is asked to consider a scenario, it is a good idea to see if the problem can be more effectively addressed somewhere higher up the goal chain. Is stealth-detection really better?

Goal chain

  • Why is the system locating him? To tell authorities so they can go there and apprehend him.
  • Why are they apprehending him? He has shown an inability to regulate damaging anti-social behavior (in the eyes of the law, anyway) and the offender must be incarcerated.
  • Why do we try to incarcerate criminals? To minimize potential damage to society while the offender is rehabilitated.
  • Why do we try to rehabilitate criminals? Well, in the Idiocracy, it’s an excuse for damnatio ad vehiculum, that is, violent public spectacle based on the notion that jurisprudence is about punishment-as-deterrent. (Pro-tip: That doesn’t work. Did I say that doesn’t work? Because that doesn’t work.) In a liberal democracy like ours, it’s because we understand that the mechanisms of law are imperfect and we don’t want the state to enact irreversible capital punishment when it could be wrong, and, moreover, that human lives have intrinsic value. We should try to give people who have offended a chance to demonstrate an understanding of their crime and the willingness to behave lawfully in the future. Between incarceration and rehabilitation, we seek to minimize crime.
  • Why do we try to minimize crime? (This ought to be self-evident, but juuust in case…) Humans thrive when they do not need to guard against possible attack by every other human they encounter. They can put their resources towards the pursuit of happiness rather than the defense of encroachment. Such lawful societies benefit from network effects.

The MPOV suggestion above fixes the problem at the low level of detection, but each step in the goal chain invites design at a more effective level. It’s fun to look at each of these levels and imagine an advanced-technology solution (and even find sci-fi examples of each), but for this post, let’s look at the last one, minimizing crime, in the context of the tattoo scanner.

Ultimate problem: Preventing crime

In his paper “Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century,” Daniel Nagin reviewed state of the art criminology findings and listed five things about deterrence. Number one in his list is that the chance of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than even draconian punishment.

Research shows clearly that the chance of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than even draconian punishment.

Daniel S. Nagin, 2013

How might we increase the evident chance of being caught?

  1. Fund police forces well so they are well-staffed, well-trained, and have a near-constant, positive presence in communities, and impressive capture rates. Word would get around.
  2. Nagin himself suggests concentrating police presence in criminal hotspots, ensuring that they have visible handcuffs and walkie-talkies.
  3. Another way might be media: Of making sure that potential criminals hear an overwhelming number of stories through their network of criminals being captured successfully. This could involve editorial choice, or even media manipulation, filtering to ensure that “got caught” narratives appear in feeds more than “got away with it” ones. But we’re hopefully becoming more media savvy as a result of Recent Things, and this seems more deceptive than persuasive.
  4. The other way is to increase the sense of observation. And that leads us (as so many things do) to the panopticon.

The Elaboratory*

The Panopticon is almost a trope at this point, but that’s what this scene points to. If you’re not familiar, it is an idea about the design of buildings in which “a number of persons are meant to be kept under inspection,” conceived in the late 1700s by Samuel Bentham and formalized by his brother James in letters to their father. Here is a useful illustration.

*Elaboratory was one of the alternate terms he suggested for the idea. It didn’t catch on since it didn’t have the looming all-seeing-eye ring of the other term.

Elevation, section, and plan as drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791

The design of the panopticon is circular, with prisoners living in isolated cells along the perimeter. The interior wall of each cell is open to view so the inmate can be observed by a person in a central tower or “inspector’s lodge.” Things are structured so the inmates cannot tell whether or not they are being observed. (Bentham suggested louvers.) Over time, the idea goes, the inmate internalizes the unseen authority as a constant presence, and begins to regulate themselves, behaving as they believe the guard would have them behave. Bentham thought this was ideal from an efficacy and economic standpoint.

“Ideal perfection, if that were the object, would require that each person should actually [be under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them], during every instant of time.”

—Jeremey Bentham

It’s an idea that has certainly enjoyed currency. If you hadn’t come across the idea via Bentham, you may have come across it via Foucault in Discipline and Punish, who regarded it not as a money-saving design, but as an illustration of the effect of power. Or maybe Orwell, who did not use the term, but extended it to all of society in 1984. Or perhaps you heard it from Shoshana Zuboff, who in The Age of the Smart Machine reconceived it for information technology in a work environment.

Umm…Carol? Why aren’t you at your centrifuge?

In Benjamen Walker’s podcast Theory of Everything, he dedicates an episode to the argument that as a metaphor it needs to be put away, since…

  1. It builds on one-way observation, and modern social media has us sharing information about ourselves willingly, all the time. The diagram is more dream catcher than bicycle wheel. We volunteer ourselves to the inspector, any inspector, and can become inspectors to anyone else any time. Sousveillance. Stalking.
  2. Most modern uses of the metaphor are anti-government, but surveillance capitalism is a more pernicious problem (here in the West), where advertising uses all the information it can to hijack your reward systems and schlorp money out of you.
  3. Bentham regarded it as a tool for behavior modification, but the metaphor is not used to talk about how surveillance changes us and our identities, but rather as a violation of privacy rights.

It’s a good series, check it out, and hat tip to Brother-from-a-Scottish-Mother John V Willshire for pointing me in its direction.

To Walker’s list I will add another major difference: Panopticon inmates must know they are being watched. It’s critical to the desired internalization of authority. But modern surveillance tries its best to be invisible despite the fact that it gathers an enormous amount of information. (Fortunately it often fails to be invisible, and social media channels can be used to expose the surveillance.)

Guns are bad.

But then, Idiocracy

In Idiocracy, this interface—of the tattoo and the vending machine—is what puts this squarely back in Bentham’s metaphor. The ink is in a place that will be seen very often by the owner, and a place that’s very difficult to casually hide. (I note that the overwhelming majority of Hillfinger [sic] shirts in the movie are even short-sleeved.) So it serves as that permanent—and permanently-visible—identifier. You are being watched. (Holy crap now I have yet another reason to love Person of Interest. It’s adding to our collective media impression the notion of AI surveillance. Anyway…) In this scene, it’s a clear signal that he and his co-offenders could see, which means they would tell their friends this story of how easily Joe was caught. It’s pretty cunningly designed as a conspicuous signal.

Imagine how this might work throughout that world. As people went around their business in the Idiocracy, stochastic flashes of light on their and other people’s wrists keep sending a signal that everyone is being watched. It’s crappy surveillance which we don’t like for all the reasons we don’t like it, but it illustrates why stealth-detection may not be the ideal for crime preventions and why this horrible tattoo might be the thing that a bunch of doomed eggheads might have designed for the future when all that was left was morons. Turns out at least for the Idiocracy, this is a pretty well-designed signal for deterrence, which is the ultimate goal of this interface.

Beep.


3 of 3: Brain Hacking

The hospital doesn’t have the equipment to decrypt and download the actual data. But Jane knows that the LoTeks can, so they drive to the ruined bridge that is the LoTek home base. As mentioned earlier under Door Bombs and Safety Catches the bridge guards nearly kill them due to a poorly designed defensive system. Once again Johnny is not impressed by the people who are supposed to help him.

When Johnny has calmed down, he is introduced to Jones, the LoTek codebreaker who decrypts corporate video broadcasts. Jones is a cyborg dolphin. Continue reading

Airport Security

After fleeing the Yakuza in the hotel, Johnny arrives in the Free City of Newark, and has to go through immigration control. This process appears to be entirely automated, starting with an electronic passport reader.

jm-9-customs-b

After that there is a security scanner, which is reminiscent of HAL from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

jm-9-customs-f

The green light runs over Johnny from top to bottom. Continue reading

The Evidence Tray (ordinary use)

LogansRun082

Sandmen surrender any physical objects recovered from the bodies of runners to the Übercomputer for evaluation via a strange device I’m calling The Evidence Tray.

LogansRun083

As a Sandman enters the large interrogation chamber, a transparent cylinder lowers from the ceiling. At the top of this cylinder an arm continuously rotates bearing four pin lights. A chrome cone sits in the center of the base. The Sandman can access the interior of the cylinder through a large oblong opening in the side the top of which is just taller than Sandmen (who seem to be a near-uniform height). Continue reading

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

Topography “Pups”

The “pups,” as low-grade sociopath and geologist Fifield calls them, are a set of spheres that float around and spatially map the surface contours of a given space in real-time.

Prometheus-202

To activate them, Fifield twists their hemispheres 90 degrees along their equator, and they begin to glow red along two red rings.

When held up for a few seconds, they rise to the vertical center of the space they are in, and begin to fly in different directions, shining laser in a coronal ring as they go.

Prometheus-118

In this way they scan the space and report what they detect of the internal topography back to the ship, where it is reconstructed in 3D in real time. The resulting volumetric map features not just the topography, but icons (yellow rotating diamonds with last initials above them) to represent the locations of individual scientists and of course the pups themselves.

Prometheus-188

The pups continue forward along the axis of a space until they find a door, at which they will wait until they are let inside. How they recognize doors in alien architecture is a mystery. But they must, or the first simple dead-end or burrow would render it inert.

The pups are simple, and for that they’re pretty cool. Activation by twist-and-lift is easy through the constraints of the environment suits, easy to remember, and quick to execute, but deliberate enough not to be performed accidentally. Unfortunately we never see how they are retreived, but it raises some interesting interaction design challenges.