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.

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Jones has not just an implant like Johnny or an augmented nervous system like Jane, but a full neural brain interface that gives him active control. The thing behind his eye and under the cable can rotate, and he can also direct and control an external microwave radar dish. In the background there are a lot of cables and blinking lights apparently connecting Jones to the LoTek video broadcast gear.

For his part, Johnny is sitting in a chair, upper head strapped into a helmet-like brain scanner. This one is very big and clunky, perhaps because it is salvaged old technology or perhaps because this is not just a passive scanner, so needs additional elements and power to actively modify the brain.

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When this starts operating, we see the same strobing white light flashes that the first scanner used.

J-Bone, the LoTek leader, uses a handheld camera to feed the first access code image into the system. This is yet another piece of talking technology, announcing that the first image has been loaded.

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The captured image is processed to remove the perspective keystoning, and displayed on one of three small panels on the wall, side by side. That specialised displays are made solely for displaying three images suggests that this form of access code is a standard method of data protection in 2021. The other two panels display rolling static.

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Wait…static?

Why is there static in a 2021 system for displaying computer images? It’s not just because they’re analog: old CRT computer monitors went blank if there was nothing to display. This is a missing or scrambled signal.

Since the LoTeks rely on scavenged technology, it’s quite likely that they are the last people on the planet still using coax video cables. Another possibility is that this is a deliberate imitation, as we saw earlier with the digital fax machine that made analog sounds. Computer graphics programmers are constantly wondering whether the screen is black because they didn’t draw anything, or black because they accidently drew everything in that color. The rolling static makes it clear that there is no image to display, not that the image is blank.

The first download attempt is interrupted by the Yakuza attacking the bridge. There’s some equipment damage, but by the end of the fight Johnny and company have recovered the second access code image.

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Still not enough, but Johnny now attempts to “hack his own brain” which is successful (discussed below). The data is finally downloaded and the LoTeks broadcast the cure for NAS worldwide.

Tech Tease

The hacking and downloading take place in another virtual reality space, the internal representation of the implant. These sequences are action-packed and filled with eye catching visuals. If we wanted, there’s much that could be written about, from the visual representations of hacking used in film and TV to the advisability of transmitting vital scientific data through a video encoder. But we never get to see the interface!

Instead, we see Johnny just sit and do nothing other than maintain a death grip on the chair armrests and try not to grind his teeth into fragments. According to the running commentary on the hack provided by J-Bone, Johnny is performing actions in VR. It’s possible that the LoTek brain scanner is a true brain interface that gives him active control by thought alone with no sound or audio experience.

But this is evidently high grade encryption, which could only be broken by an expert hacker. Without visible controls for the brain scanner, the expert hacker would need to be using a direct brain interface. And the hacker would naturally have their own avatar. The only person present who definitely meets all these requirements is not Johnny, but Jones.

Could Jones be really doing all the work? In the original short story it was Jones, and here he’s certainly doing something in virtual reality. Johnny would make a useful distraction, and J-Bone might deliberately mislead the non-LoTek bystanders to keep Jones a secret.

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Whether it’s Johnny or Jones, we only get to see what happens, not how. Rather than end on this disappointing note, I’ll now jump back to discuss the more rewarding interfaces for phone calls and cyberspace search sequence.

 

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