The „Person Of Interest“ – Geekism
„Person Of Interest“ is a tv-show that deals with an ex-CIA-agent (John Reese embodied by Jim Caviezel) and a genius software engineer (Harold Finch, portrayed by Michael Emerson) that try to prevent crimes before they actually happen. The so-called person of interest (poi) is delievered as a social security number by a surveillance system (short referenced as the machine) that predicts crimes. Finch and Reese have to figure out if the person is a victim or a perpetrator. The tasks are divided properly: Finch is operating in the background and clears the way for Reese, who is something like the executive. Additionally the two of them have to deal with their pasts. Finch is the creator of the omnipresent machine, which is now in governments hands. Reese was betrayed by the government and both are held for dead. Their intentions are not completely clear and their past mysterious but one thing is obvious: they deeply want to save lives and get into danger often.
The main impulse for me to watch POI was an article in a german cinema and tv-magazine which was very positive. Plus: a screenplay by Jonathan Nolan, J.J. Abrams as an executive producer and finally Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel in starring roles. 4 very good arguments! As a computer science student I have to state that I was really curious to see if the tv show could possibly create an imagination of a genius software engineer/hacker (MR. FINCH) and an intelligent surveillance system (THE MACHINE) that is believable. Hacking is often illustrated very unreal and simple in television or movies and leaves nothing but wrong impressions und unplausible solutions. That is sometimes really unsatisfying.
Furthermore the idea of government using a surveillance system is mind-blowing and respresents many persons apprehensions. It deals with ideas and fears that were also displayed in George Orwells famous novel „1984“ and so many other media. It hasn’t always to do something with crimes but with people losing their privacy and the probing question what comes after an omnipresent surveillance system?
Person of interest is one of the rare examples for quality tv-shows in my opinion. It deals with characters and backgrounds that are artistically connected. The storylines are unique and different from episode to episode while the main characters are still able to develop and work on their conflicts and deal with their past. Furthermore they don’t overdo ethical questions, but leave some room for the audience to ask themselves what they would do – what they think. It’s the perfect balance between action on cinema-level, height and drama. Plus: the chemistry between the entirely different main characters adds last – but not least – comedy!
A great plus for all fans of J.J. Abrams shows LOST and Fringe are the few but well-placed references. 😆 For example check the trivia for the pilot episode on the pedia of interest.
Well, there are a lot of summaries and synopses and imagine – in august 2012 you can finally watch poi in german pay-tv! But it seems to me nobody had a closer look at the informatics!
From the point of view of a computer science student I have to admit that poi manages to leave impressions that are incredibly close to the real life. But there are also some great references – let’s have a look at the geekism of poi.
geekism contains spoilers!
The hacking and finchs system
Unfortunately I didn’t managed to find any image from Finchs computer system but he uses several computers, laptops, mobiles, … .
His operating system seems to be a Free-BSD or a linux derivate, but not a windows OS or Mac OS which could be interpreted as a sign for a high security standard. Linux systems offer a broad amount on application that are free available via GNU GPL. It allows you to use programs, compilers, interpreters … freely. So you have less trouble in compiling your source code and there is no need for heavy development interfaces. Also these operating systems allows you to handle your system with less restrictions. But I’m only speculating. Edit: In 3×16 it was finally revealed that Finch uses a UNIX-system but not any of the usual suspects (Ubuntu, Suse, …).
It’s a fact that he uses shell/command line interfaces (which are available in every system, but with differences in how powerful the interfaces are). Often you see scripts he uses, programs with no graphical user interface – just executed via shell/command line interface/terminal. Sometimes you see fragments of network protocols he uses, e.g. TCP, SSH or Kerberos. This is very smart and gives you the feeling of „this is the way he does it!“ if you are familiar with network computing. Like you are part of the conspiracy. 😀
Looking at ROOTs desktop leaves the hint that she uses Ubuntu – you can guess it easily e.g. from the Unity-Interface.
In the 13th episode of Season 1 (Root Cause) Mr. Finch has to deal with another hacker. He first doesn’t notice the hoax till it’s too late. He was tracking down a system, that was nothing but a honeypot in the end. His own system, location and communicaions channels were nearly infiltrated. He closes all channels by doing a complete power off and later rebuilds his system.
For some time he works mobile from public places in episode 13 of season 1 after the honeypot-hoax. Suddenly he was invited to a chat via IRC-channel. Some nice basic chat-protocol that is widely used by persons who like to be a bit more private and don’t need the emoticon nonsense, like i do.
The person who invited him is the hacker that trapped him via a honeypot before and obviously tracked him down again. When Finch asks the hacker out, he/she says not very much but introduces HERself as ROOT (shown in the image). ROOT is another word for the superuser or administrator of a system. The only person or instance of a system that has rights to do system-wide changes concerning the operation system or basic ressources. Some operations in a system couldn’t be done by any user who has a account in a system, but by the superuser. Often you are not superuser in your own system but are allowed to do some actions AS the superuser or administrator. You sure know this from your windows OS or e.g. Free-BSD or Linux distributions like Ubuntu in which you type into the shell sudo (superuser do).
In the final episode of season 1 (Firewall) Reese and Finch try to help the poi Caroline Turing which laters turns out as the hacker root. (BTW the character Zoe tries to help Finch and Reese and finds the computer of Caroline Turing which immediately clears all hard drives and at least displays su in a shell which stands for substitute user or change user. Imagine! A command line interface and REAL LIFE instructions)
When I heard her name I really had something like expectations. Obviously it’s borrowd by Alan Turing. (who btw had his 100th birthday yesterday). Turing was a famous mathematician who invented the model of the turing machine and the turing test. With a turing test you figure out if a computer system or program is intelligent. A system passes the test if you do some conversation with the system and get the imagination you’re talking to a human instead of a machine. (short version of the explanation) Turing was an outstanding person and every programmer knows his name today – Turing is a legend. Sad but true: he was judged for his sexual orientation in the past which later leds to his suicide.
The machine is a system working with information and materials from NSA and it uses video surveillance material, emails, phone calls and much more media constructing an information pool with a heavy amount of data. Its capable to do a lot of operations like facial recognition and it seems to do all this in real-time which would require an unbelievable amount of computing capacity and ressources. It’s even more incredible that the system has something like a sense (operations, functions) for self-protection. Through the „eyes“ of the machine you often see surveillance camera recordings. The persons heads are often marked with a rectangle signing if they know about the machine or even are a possible threat. In several episodes it’s obvious that the machine has information about the instance of the Administrator (Finch).
Having something like a self-awareness and processing such huge amounts of data in real-time as well as making a decision and connection between facts is incredible! Would like to talk to Mr. Finch about the implementation…no wonder that he mentions in a flashback in one episode that the programming will take about 5 more years (!!!).
There are so much more references that are a pure pleasure for computer science enthusiasts.
Finch uses e.g. a potatoe chips can to sthrengthen the signal from a wireless network. In another episode he talks about the usual security habits of the broad mass concerning their passwords. Another great trick is to implement a scanner into a shredder so that the documents are send to him before they were destroyed … I could talk and write about it for hours!
At least I just have to say that POI is an intelligent and great tv-show and I’m really happy about the news that it will be broadcasted in germany too (ask myself how the voices will sound like) and it will be renewed for a second season! I hope I gave you an overview about the information technology aspects of POI. Tell me what you think.