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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Analysis: The jack

The jack looks like an audio plug, and like most audio plugs is round and has no coronal-orientation requirement. It also has a bulbous rather than pointed tip. Both of these are good design, as Johnny can’t see the socket directly and while accidentally poking yourself with a headphone style point is unlikely to be harmful, it would certainly be irritating.

The socket’s glow would be a useful indicator that the thing is working, but Johnny can’t see it! Probably these sockets and jacks are produced and used for other devices as well, as red status lights are common in this world.

There are easier and more convenient fictional brain plug interfaces, such as the neck plugs previously discussed on this website for Ghost In The Shell. But Johnny doesn’t want his implant to be too obvious, so this not so convenient plug may be a deliberate choice. Perhaps he tells inquisitive people that it’s for his Walkman.

Analysis: The device

The product name got a few chuckles from audiences in the 1990s, as the name is similar to a common classic Macintosh extension at the time, the Connectix RAM Doubler. This applied in-memory lossless data compression techniques to allow more or larger programs to run within the existing RAM.

The MemDoubler is apparently a software or firmware updater, modifying Johnny’s implant to use brain tissue twice as efficiently as before. It has voice output, again a slightly artificial sounding but not unpleasant voice. This announces that Johnny’s current capacity is 80 gigabytes. As the update is applied, a glowing progress bar gradually fills until the voice announces the new capacity of 160G.

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(Going from 80G to 160G seems quaint today. But we should remember that the value of a mnemonic courier is secrecy, not quantity.)

Why does the MemDoubler need voice output? For such a simple task, the progress bar and a three digit numeric counter would seem adequate. But if there are complications—which for something wired into the brain might have an all too literal meaning for “fatal error”—a voice announcement would be able to include much more detail about the problem, or even alert bystanders if Johnny is rendered unconscious by the problem. (Given how current software installers operate, Johnny is fortunate that the MemDoubler did not insist on reciting the entire end user license agreement and warranty before the update could start.) Maybe the visual should be the default (to respect his professional need for secrecy), and the voice announcement adopted in an alert mode.

It’s also interesting that Johnny installs this immediately before he needs it, in the lift that is taking him to the hotel room where he will receive the data to be stored. Suppose someone else had been in the lift with him? In this world of routine body implants doubling your memory is probably not a crime, but at the time of writing diabetics will inject themselves in private even though that is harmless and necessary. Perhaps body-connected technology will be common enough in 2021 that public operation is considered normal, just as we have become accustomed to mobile phone conversations being carried out in public.

NucleoLab Display

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The scientist Mactilburgh reconstructs Leeloo from a bit of her remains in his “nucleolab.” We see a few interfaces here.

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We never see Mactilburgh interact with the controls on this display: Potentiometers, dials with circular LED readout rings, glowing toggle buttons, and unlit buttons labeled “OFF” and “ESC.” There’s not much to grasp onto for analysis. These are just “sciencey” set of physical controls. The display is a bit of similar scienciness, meant to vaguely convey that Leeloo is a higher-order being, but beyond that, incomprehensible. Interestingly, the Mondoshawan DNA shows not just a more detailed graphic, but adds color to convey an additional level of complexity.

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An odd bit: In the lower right hand corner of the screen you can see the words “FAMILIAL HYPERCHOL TEROLEMIA.” Looking up this term reveals the genetic condition Familial Hypercholesterolemia. It’s only missing the “ES.” What’s this label doing here? This could be the area on the DNA chain where the markers appear for this predisposition to high cholesterol, but wouldn’t you expect that to take up 5000 times less room on a DNA strand of a perfect being, not the same percentage? Also it kind of takes the winds out of the sails of Mactilburgh’s breathless claim that she’s perfect. Anyway it’s a warning lesson for sci-fi interface designers: Watch where you pull your sciencey words from. If it’s a real thing, ask whether the meaning runs counter to your purposes or not.