And finally we come to the often-promised cyberspace search sequence, my favourite interface in the film. It starts at 36:30 and continues, with brief interruptions to the outside world, to 41:00. I’ll admit there are good reasons not to watch the entire film, but if you are interested in interface design, this will be five minutes well spent. Included here are the relevant clips, lightly edited to focus on the user interfaces.
Johnny and Jane have broken into a neighbourhood computer shop, which in 2021 will have virtual reality gear just as today even the smallest retailer has computer mice. Johnny clears miscellaneous parts off a table and then sits down, donning a headset and datagloves.
Headsets haven’t really changed much since 1995 when this film was made. Barring some breakthrough in neural interfaces, they remain the best way to block off the real world and immerse a user into the virtual world of the computer. It’s mildly confusing to a current day audience to hear Johnny ask for “eyephones”, which in 1995 was the name of a particular VR headset rather than the popular “iPhone” of today.Continue reading →
Zorg issues orders to the police to arrest Korben Dallas. A squad of 8 officers arrive to his apartment block. They know what apartment number he’s supposed to be in, but Korben’s number has been removed by Cornelius, and the neighbor has blacked his out.
To authorize the lockdown, the squad leader opens a police box mounted on the wall in the hallway by placing the top edge of a transparent warrant into a slot on its side. The box verifies the warrant and slides open. The squad leader presses a red button within.
During lockdown a klaxon sounds, red beacon lights descend from the hallway ceiling, and a loud, clear voiceover is heard in the hallway and in the apartments themselves.
THIS IS A POLICE PATROL. THIS IS NOT AN EXERCISE…THIS IS A POLICE PATROL. THIS IS NOT AN EXERCISE. CAN YOU PLEASE SPREAD YOUR LEGS AND PLACE YOUR HANDS IN THE YELLOW CIRCLES.
The circles in question are painted at chest height on the walls inside of each apartment, a little wider than shoulder width. There is a small intercom interface mounted in the wall directly between the yellow circles. The police use different interfaces for peering inside apartments and this intercom for communicating with citizens, but these will be discussed separately in the next post.
There are a few sets of users for this particular set of interfaces: The police, Zorg, and Korben. To evaluate the system, we need to look at each user independently.
For the police, this interface seems to work well. Since the lockdown is part of the infrastructure, they don’t have to bring anything but their standard gear and the warrant. They save energy and the tedium of alerting the citizens and issuing standard compliance instructions. In a fully networked world, you might think to simply have him or her authorize themselves using biometrics, but in keeping with the principles of multifactor authentication, you might require the officer to carry something anyway. Since you’d want a physical warrant for a poor or luddite citizen to be able to see and verify, it’s going to be there, might as well use it.
For Zorg and issuing authorities like him, he kind-of wants to minimize danger to his people and certainly his equipment, which this helps do. He also wants to cover his ass from citizen lawsuits, and having the traceability of the warrant-scan means he will have a record that due process has been followed. As we’ll see tomorrow, ultimately he doesn’t get what he needs, but as far as this lockdown interface, it seems like it would work just fine.
For the citizen Korben, the interface provides a clear signal and easy-to-follow instructions, so the proximal part “works.” What doesn’t work is that the whole system is horribly demeaning, authoritarian, and—fully risking Godwin’s Law, here—fascist.
Security is almost always at odds with usability, and this interface proves no different. To improve the experience for the good citizen, you might want to provide some warning, some ability to finish what they’re doing, or some less demeaning way to show that they are cooperating. But any concessions made for the good citizens will be taken advantage of by the bad ones, and so I don’t know that design can really fix that tension.
P.S. As of this writing my Minority Report review is not posted, but readers interested to compare and contrast a similar scene done with more seriousness some 5 years later should check it out.