fiction Archive

The year 2029 must have seemed a long way off when Masamune Shirow first published his cyberpunk vision, Ghost in the Shell, in 1989. The intervening 28 years to today have seen multiple animated adaptations of his work (two films and a TV series). Despite its age and the inevitable changes that follow from any adaptation, Shirow’s core technological vision has been remarkably unchanged since the first manga.

Ghost in the Shell (1989)

The franchise provides plenty of food for thought relating to cybernetic augmentation, artificial intelligence, and fundamental questions on the nature of humanity and sentience. In this post, I’ll take a close look at one particularly eye-catching concept — cybernetic prosthetic hands that are shown driving computers with blazing speed. Even in our current era of Bluetooth and optical communication, this concept somehow still earns a prominent place in the contemporary canon.

Beyond the Home Row

Keyboards, whether QWERTY or Dvorak, split ergonomic or Maltron, all have 10 keys on the home row. Debates about comparative speed aside, they all have approximately the same number of total


In addition to many fine movies available to stream on Amazon Prime, there is also Dredd, a film 2012 installment in the Judge Dredd franchise. For a film taking place in the 22nd century, the technologies portrayed in the film are, for the most part, remarkably mundane. While spending many production resources on flashly explosions and slow-motion sequences, the high technology of the film is more or less limited to one large computer monitor dressed up in futuristic garb by showing 3D floorplans, windowed security CCTV feeds, the classic Windows star screen saver, and a terminal window — pretty much a regular episode of 24.

The most adventurous piece of technology portrayed is a set of bionic eyes possessed by the “clan techie.” It’s never made clear what these actually do other than serve as eye-candy (pun intended) because the character still uses a computer monitor and displays no special abilities. Their only function is to look pretty – Tron-blue in color with bladed iris adjustable diaphrams – and move the plot forward in an almost negligible way (and even then without any reference to actual functionality). In fact, there’s even a


Present is precedent when it comes to envisioning our digital future in big screen sci-fi and futuristic action films. Guided by an imperative that props must be believable to audiences in the context of today’s culture and technology, writers and prop designers are much too conservative in envisioning a future that will be radically different from today’s. Their conceptions are often times visually radically, and yet at the same time functionally anachronistic – a phone is something you hold to your head, we receive information through visors and displays that look like flashier versions of today’s screens, etc.

Familiarity is essential to some extent. It’s like a Broadway actor flamboyantly acting out emotions with exaggerated facial gestures and body language to convey what would be a subtle expression in real life. Similarly, the retro-future technologies featured in so many sci-fi films give the audience a necessary hook to accept a futuristic vision or identify the role of a prop without stumbling over it. The technique is successful as a narrative device, but it inhibits our ability to collectively imagine the wild possibilities before us – possibilities that will trend toward the magical while being increasingly invisible (thus not making for good film).

Twenty years ago