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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


I recently watched 2010: The Year We Make Contact and noted how the set was crammed with old-school keyboards. It occurred to me that if the film were re-made today, each of those conventional-looking keyboards would be replaced by a futuristic virtual keyboard on a screen, wall, or table surface (the control center in the film Oblivion comes to mind).

We have the technology today to create that reality of glass-based interface, but how many of us are actually using soft keyboards to do serious work on on computers? The first accessory I bought for my first iPad was a Bluetooth keyboard. The first accessory I bought for my new iPad mini 2 only a few months ago was a Bluetooth keyboard.

In my experience working with professional software developers at a prominent startup, instead of moving toward soft keyboards, the trend is quite literally opposite. Many developers I know are seeking out mechanical switch keyboards with greater “clickiness”, not less, such as Max Keyboard Blackbird Tenkeyless model (I’m told the Cherry MX Blue version is the most clicky). They appreciate the more active typing experience, and


I recently started experimenting with text-to-speech (TTS) and automated speech recognition (ASR) functionality after participating in a hackathon in San Francisco several weeks ago co-sponsored by AT&T. Further emboldened by a re-watching of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I set out to make a program that I could drive with some simple voice commands: “tell me the weather,” “what’s the market doing?” etc. Unsurprisingly, my results were mixed — the voice recording component sometimes truncated phrases, the web-based ASR took 1-2 seconds to process, and the results were sometimes wrong in unexpected ways (possibly attributable more to my microphone than AT&T’s API). I was sure that someone a little more experienced could really knock speech functionality out of the park.

Consequently, I was excited to play with an Xbox 360 while staying with a friend for a few days recently. It’s an old platform at this point, and I’m eager to see Xbox One, but I was surprised how limited and clunky the console’s speech capabilities were. Firstly, even in a quiet living room we found ourselves practically yelling at the console — “Xbox, Netflix!”. We’d laugh at how many times it took to recognize our command.

Secondly, the


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