Brain-Computer Interface

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In many Cyberpunk works and occasionally other sci-fi, computers can be easily used without something like a keyboard or a mouse. Rather, characters simply think and the machine responds. Typically, it requires an implant of some kind but sometimes it is possible with a headband or helmet.

Sub-trope of Unusual User Interface.

The implanted version can often be used for Electronic Telepathy if it has wireless capability.

Not to be confused with, though frequently used for, Neural Implanting, which is where data or skills are inserted into a person's brain.

Examples of Brain-Computer Interface include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Ghost in the Shell, a number of characters, including the Major, have ports implanted onto their bodies, typically at the back of the lower neck / upper shoulders that allow a direct connection between the brain and virtual reality. In the Stand Alone Complex series, we get a glimpse of what the internet looks like from within.
  • Lain gets a direct neural interface in Serial Experiments Lain: she plugs herself to her Navi by sticking electrodes on her body and plugging them into the USB ports.
  • Gundam Wing has the ZERO System, which feeds data directly into the pilot's brain and reacts to his decisions practically at speed-of-thought. Unfortunately, if you don't have immaculate focus, it drives you crazy.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Eva units are controlled with a direct neural interface with their pilots, via the LCL and the A10 nerve clips (those joysticks are just for fine manipulation and weapons control which are properly not even necessary with a high enough sync-rate). Side effects may include sympathetic pain and injuries in direct proportion to the synchro-rate, the Evas going into sudden unstoppable rampages, being a helplessly immobile and vulnerable sitting duck at very low synchro-rates, or total tangification due to a very high synchro-rate. Reasons #527, 528, and 529 why it sucks to be an Eva pilot.
  • Martian Successor Nadesico achieves this effect with Nanomachines allowing the pilot to interface directly with the mecha. These are also the control medium for larger military vehicles and a lot of civilian equipment in the Martian colonies. For once, there are no major downsides (it's the other Nanomachines you have to look out for), and it is in fact relatively easy to get the nanomachine injection if you're already in the military.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Cyberjack-style interfaces are common in Carla Speed McNeil's Finder series, and vary in complexity, from student-level jacks to full-immersion interfaces. Marcie's student jack makes it for medical computers to directly monitor her condition and influence her treatment. She can also use it to interface with computers, mentally conduct Instant Message conversations and learn skills quickly (albeit unpleasantly; Marcie runs away screaming when Lynne offers to teach her to read via hookup.) Movie theaters take advantage of this by including sensory enhancements and "mood tracks". In the Dream Sequence storyline, the narrator has a full-immersion connection as a job perk, which allows his employer to physically pack employees like sardines, while they experience a lush virtual office setting. The plot revolves around a virtual theme park/MMORPG whose creator hosts the world inside his fully-networked brain (which, of course, goes horribly wrong.)
  • Dynamo Joe had Data Com One, a paraplegic whose brain was linked to a military computer, making him a brilliant strategist.
  • In Superman continuities where Brainiac isn't a robot himself, this is what the diodes on his head are used for.
  • Transmetropolitan has a "phone trait" that uses an imaginary keyboard, one time Spider uses his to transfer some incriminating photos over the phone lines.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The Matrix has every human used by the machines outfitted with a port in the back of the skull to plug into the matrix. Non-vat grown humans can't get one installed, either.
  • The movie Sleep Dealer uses this frequently and most people work by controlling machines through brain computer interfaces.
  • In Strange Days virtual reality is someone else's reality. Using computerized Walkmen that record and play back thoughts and sensations, voyeurs relive parts of other people's lives—sometimes with deadly results. The walkmen operate using a brain computer interface.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Neuromancer practically invented this trope, especially as regards the Cyberpunk genre.
  • Telepathy run computers in The Culture books.
    • Plus the mental images used to control the biological implants and drug glands.
  • An ex-military space pilot in Katherine Kerr's Polar City Blues had a (sealed over) port in her head from interfacing with the ships she flew.
  • Michael Scott's Gemini Game features the standard "big plug on the back of the neck" and headband-based videogame ports.
  • In Timothy Zahns Conqueror series (Conqueror's Pride, Conqueror's Heritage, and Conqueror's Legacy), the Copperheads were controlled through a jack in the back of the heads of the pilot and tail gunner, with the interface basically mapping the fighter's functions to a virtual human body. Damage is represented by pain, weapons by the user's fists, and so forth
  • In Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, the Specials have this, as well as in the fourth book, Extras. In Extras, everyone has these.
  • Samuel R. Delany's Nova, published in 1968, featured a technology in which people had neural wrist- and neck-plugs installed so that they could control a wide variety of gadgets, from vacuum cleaners to starships. This style of interface was so pervasive that individuals who did not want to receive the implants were effectively unable to use any remotely sophisticated equipment.
  • There was a Dean Koontz novel were people were mutating in bizarre ways. A 'popular' mutation was growing a computer interface, and when one such person died the computer freaked out and started 'screaming' about missing the rest of it. Another person melded with his car in a similar way.
  • In the later Foundation books by Isaac Asimov some ships are flown by neural interface.
  • Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy. Infinidum Enterprise's Computer Terminals in the Hitchhiker's Guide buildings. There is a quote explaining how they're not a 'clunky typewrighter in front of a television set', but in fact a brain-computer interface thing.
  • Call me Joe is about a disabled man who controls life forms on Jupiter using such an interface.
  • Animorphs has these on the bug fighters and other alien craft. Ax makes a comment about human computers being so primitive they don't have a decent psychic link.
  • Required for neo-fins to use tools in the Uplift series, usually linked to a harness with a robotic arm.
  • A key plot point in Brain Jack, by Brian Falkner. Comes in the form of "Neuro Headsets".
  • Such interfaces are noted in passing in A Fire Upon the Deep. They don't work very well below the High Beyond, but their users still don't like taking them off.
  • Most humans are fitted with a neural implant at birth in The History of the Galaxy, which is used to translate thoughts into wireless signals. Mainly used for identification and appliance control. Some people voluntarily (and some not so voluntarily) undergo implantation of additional implants that, effectively, turn them into hackers that don't need a computer. They can even access a person's neural implant and fry his or her brain. Want to use a gun on them? Better use an ancient one that shoot bullets and has no electronics. Regular EM guns with computer chips inexplicably stop working when faced with a "cybreaker". Also used to enter virtual reality.
    • There is also a colony of humans founded by those who have been subjects of genetic experimentation and have additional glands that emit and receive infrared signals that interface with any device that has an IR port (in this 'verse, nearly all computers have one). This is the biological version of a neural implant.
    • A more direct approach involves plugging a cable into a port in one's temple, which people get at the same time as the implant. The port is normally covered by false skin.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica Reimagined have two for the price of one. They can plug in fiberoptic cable into their forearm to interface with computers (but they have to make an incision first) and they can interface with their own ships by putting their hands in a stream of water called the "datastream". The latter might be either electrical or biochemical transmitters, it's unclear but it sure looks cool! It helps that they're Artificial Humans.
  • Doctor Who episode "The Long Game" had people installing ports in their foreheads.
  • In Stargate SG-1, human-form replicators can interface with technology (particularly Earth computers) by sticking a body part, usually a hand, directly into the machine. Apparently this also works on humans, as the human-form replicators can literally get inside their victim's heads (though it is not exactly painless for the victim).
  • In Stargate Atlantis, a lot of Ancient and Wraith technology is operated by thinking at it.
    • Unfortunately, no matter how much you think at it, a Puddle Jumper won't make you a sandwich.
  • In the Voyager finale, Janeway returns from decades in the future to change the present, and she is implanted with a standard issue neural computer interface from the future.
    • There's another episode where Tom Paris gets too close to an alien shuttle with a neural interface.
  • In Andromeda, Seamus Harper had a dataport in the side of his neck, which allowed him to plug into, and interface with computer systems.
    • Later on, he plugs a tesseract into the same port, which allows him to pass through solid objects.
  • In Red Dwarf, in a TV episode and expanded for the novelisation, the computer game "Better Than Life" works on this principle - terminally addictive total virtual reality
  • Look Around You (series 1) parodies this with EBEs, Electronic Brain Enhancements, chips that students can plug into their heads to help with their revision but which they can become addicted to.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Shadowrun and nearly every work of Cyberpunk has the datajack, a port or wire usually somewhere on the side of the head to hook up to a computer. A cyberpunk character who can't "jack in" with a port in their head is not trying hard enough.
    • Later games, however, have caught up with WiFi and made wireless the prime mode of interaction with the Internet. People still have ports in their head that connect to the web, they just don't require the cables.
  • Warhammer 40,000. Obviously, what's with all the heavily cyborgized people. Even aside of the components required for bionic implants [1] and Dreadnoughts [2], there are many specifically interface implants.
    • The Loxatl (reptile aliens who often work as mercenaries for others) use implanted interface to control a "flechette blaster" strapped to the chest, which leaves all limbs free for climbing.
    • Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay series add more and get into details not relevant to battlefield. Thus there are:
      • Tech-priest specific implants: cranial circuitry (including an integrated MIU) and spinal cyber-mantle (also acting as a ribcage extension - it hosts the power unit and anchors all the mechadendrites).
      • Interface Port: the most common sort of a port (usually in the rear of the neck) for what amounts to a terminal used to read/monitor/browse data fast;
      • Electro-graft - a more "direct" network interface system, that requires training in binary communication and is limited to Tech-Priests;
      • Mind Impulse Unit (MIU) - standard universal interface used to control advanced machinery directly, whether to pilot vehicles, diagnose, fine-tune or program various systems. Tech-Priests, of course, see it as a tool of the holy communion with the machine, but it's not restricted; MIU Weapon Interface - limited variant specifically for linked weapons (e.g. to control a gun turret or fire a shoulder-mounted laser while driving a bike), good MIU include this functionality among the other enhancements;
      • Constructer Interface - allows to use multiple cyber-constructs as remote cameras, and for the ones designed to interact with it (usually cyber-mastiffs and grapplehawks, since it's intended for "canine team" specialists of Imperial law enforcement) also play Mission Control in real time and even re-program them on the fly.
      • Vehicle Interface Circuits - convenient consumer grade MIU equivalent: limited to piloting compatible vehicles and diagnostics of the same, connects simply by placing one's hands on the vehicle controls;
      • Of course, there are also old systems, which can be so incompatible with anything that even Tech-Priests see fit to anoint their skulls with Core Gel (which provides a short-living and expensive, but more universal equivalent of MIU) rather than building one more adapter for existing ports. Though some of them disagree with this practice.
  • In Eclipse Phase nearly all Morphs come standard with Basic Mesh Inserts (the Mesh being the post-Singularity version of the 'net).
    • Eclipse Phase also features the Access Jacks implant, which allows users to hook their brain to machines via fiberoptic cable, if you prefer your connection faster and impossible to intercept.
  • Cthulhu Tech: Engels. See Neon Genesis Evangelion above, without the Synchronization, but with more invasive surgery and SAN checks.
  • GURPS Transhuman Space makes brain implants practically the only cybernetics still in common use.
  • Iron Crown Enterprises' Cyberspace. The Direct Neural Interface implant allows a person's brain to be hooked up to computers (such as a C Deck) with a DNI Cable.
  • R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk. Interface Plugs allow the person implanted with them to connect to and control cyberdecks.
  • Alternity has an implant that allows a character to interact with compatible technology.
  • Present in BattleTech. Enhanced Imaging and the Direct Neural Interface are implants which basically allows the pilot to directly control the BattleMech with their mind, rather than with the standard joysticks and neuro-helmet. Protomechs all use this, as they're too small to fit a cockpit. The devices have a number of drawbacks, such as crippling withdraw and causing the pilot to go slowly insane.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Deus Ex mentions an occipital [3] jack in one in game news article and an in game email, based on the context of the news article (The fact that a teenage girl has one is mentioned alongside having a tattoo and wearing black) these are looked upon negatively
  • Pretty much the entire point of the Half Life 2 mod Dystopia. The players can jack into a 3D interpretation of a computer by mentally connecting to the computer through the cyberdeck in their heads. Of course, since they are putting their own minds inside the machine, they leave their real bodies vulnerable to attack.
  • In EVE Online, players fly their ships by being inside a pod full of goo with a neural interface which connects to the ship's systems and can easily be transferred between ships as well as ejected in the case of the ship's destruction (and if it is destroyed, a neural scan allows the player's mind to be transferred to a clone maintained at a station to cheat death). The interface allows a single person to control all of the ship's systems on any ship from a shuttle to a 20 km long titan, with much faster reactions and better control than a human crew manually controlling it could have (NPC ships are controlled by crews, and with the exception of CONCORD, are relatively weak).
  • System Shock. It actually makes sense from the player's perspective.
  • The Dreamer consoles in Dreamfall.
  • Halo, it turns out, has a bunch of military personel (including Captain Keyes and any Spartan rated for Mark V armor or later) have an interface to their wetware. This becomes a major plot point in the first game, because this is how the Flood tried to lift the location of Earth from Keyes. Through this link, apparently Cortana increased MC's compatibility with his suit.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Girl Genius has this, what's with all the Mad Scientists.
    • Tarvek made a mechanical body for his sister, after she was brain damaged after one of their father's experiments, so that she could at least look around, walk and talk while sealed in a life support palanquin connected via cables and carried behind. Which led to... unexpected consequences.
    • The Throne of Faustus Heterodyne, traditionally used by the seneschal. It can be reasonably described as creepy.
    • The Master of Paris has a way to directly control the city's network too. And as we find out later, those of his family - at least Colette (who he hopes can do the job if necessary) has the required implant.
  • Terinu has the old "port in the head" method of cybernetic interface, but it's limited to expensive and specialized "Cybergliders" who run the risk of eventual brain damage even before you add in encountering hostile ICE. Everyone else sticks to either voice commands or keyboards.
  • Kimiko Ross from Dresden Codak has a jack in her upper back.
  • Xkcd shows us that some people are not going to wait for these interfaces to go mainstream.
  • Bedivere in the Space Arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space has an I/O jack replacing her his missing hand. Largely for the sake of a pun.
  • In Twenty First Century Fox most personal computers are VR glasses that seem to respond to a combination of brain signals and voice control, offering a full sensory experience. The same technology is later used for "o-Pods" that act as a virtual reality version of the iPod.
  • In Umlaut House 2 most people have "Eye-fis".

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the Whateley Universe, more than one deviser goes with the datajack. Techno-Devil has a shaved mullet, with an exposed datajack on each side of his head. Jericho has one as well. Merry doesn't even need that much (she just has to be near a fast CPU hooked up to the internet, and her mind can literally dive into cyberspace). Since that is in fact her mutant power it may be debatable if it fully counts for this trope, but it's the closest thing to the 'cyberspace experience' depicted in the various stories so far.
  • In Orion's Arm most bionts have Direct Neural Interfaces or DNIs.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In Megas XLR, Coop meets a future version of himself, and their future Kiva is hooked up to a machine through her brain.
  • In Exo Squad, the E-frame steering is twofold: the ground movement (walking) is synchronized with the pilot's leg movements, but aiming and flying are controlled via "cyberjacks" connecting directly to the pilot's brain via a socket at the back of his/her neck.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  1. if you got an artificial eye, it's connected to the optical nerve and have controls for built-in extras, if any - such as a ballistic calculator
  2. space marines too mangled to go on even with bionics often are stuffed in life-support sarcophagi and put in a mechanical humanoid body the size of a small armoured vehicle, so they still can fight
  3. bone in the back of the skull