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See Inside November 2008

Jacking into the Brain--Is the Brain the Ultimate Computer Interface?

How far can science advance brain-machine interface technology? Will we one day pipe the latest blog entry or NASCAR highlights directly into the human brain as if the organ were an outsize flash drive?



Bill Diodato

The cyberpunk science fiction that emerged in the 1980s routinely paraded “neural implants” for hooking a computing device directly to the brain: “I had hundreds of megabytes stashed in my head,” proclaimed the protagonist of “Johnny Mnemonic,” a William Gibson story that later became a wholly forgettable movie starring Keanu Reeves.

The genius of the then emergent genre (back in the days when a megabyte could still wow) was its juxtaposition of low-life retro culture with technology that seemed only barely beyond the capabilities of the deftest biomedical engineer. Although the implants could not have been replicated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the California Institute of Technology, the best cyberpunk authors gave the impression that these inventions might yet materialize one day, perhaps even in the reader’s own lifetime.

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