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Brain/Computer Interface
aka: Neural Interface
Because nothing stops a guy like hijacking his mind via a brain port...

In many Cyber Punk works and occasionally other sci-fi, technology is typically very advanced. Since convenience is highest priority and The Singularity is looming, it's natural to assume that the next big thing thing is embedding cables into your skull and synching your brain with a computer; since a keyboard or mouse can be cumbersome and slower than human thought, it's natural to assume that implants, headbands or helmets will be next to hit the shelves.

Of course, this frequently comes with the benefits and risks of computers albeit inside a person, so expect human backups, self-enhancement, life hacking, people viruses, and Mind Rape among other things.

The likely users are cyborgs, robots, telepaths, Energy Beings, mages, and the genetically engineered. A normal human is unlikely to be able to use one of these unless it's non invasive.

Sub-trope of Unusual User Interface. See 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:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • 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; Batou and Ishikawa both use said ports to override movement through the brain and temporarily disable people. In the Stand Alone Complex series, we get a glimpse of what the internet looks like from within.
  • Mobile Suit 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Multiple variants appear in the Sword Art Online / Accel World universe.
    • NerveGears are bulky, head-concealing helmets that use some kind of microwave transmitter to intercept signals between the brain and the body, providing the user with a perfect virtual reality environment in a process called FullDive. First appeared in 2022.
    • AmuSpheres are visor-like devices that are essentially a far more compact NerveGear with significant improvements in user safety. For that reason, the two are fully inter-compatible. Appeared sometime during 2023.
    • Brain Implant Chips are small devices permanently installed beneath the dura mater. They were the first devices to feature Augmented Reality in the form of an Unusual User Interface where the user uses hand gestures to manipulate interface elements only he can see but are also illegal due to the risk of brain hacking and exam cheating. It also hides the user from Brain Burst matching lists but at a cost: if BB is uninstalled, the chip dissolves into the cerebrospinal fluid.
    • The NeuroLinker is the legal successor of the BIC: a small, choker-like device worn around the neck that provides both Augmented Reality and FullDive. Unlike the BIC, NeuroLinkers are completely non-invasive and can be taken off with no ill effects. Completely ubiquitous by 2046.
  • One of these was part of the prototype YF-21 in Macross Plus. The BCI was found to be incompatible with the test pilot and had a tendency to pick up stray thoughts.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Tiberium Wars, the Nod Avatars are presented as having a powerful mind/machine interface, with the pilot existing in a sort of dream-like state where the operator shares operations with a cold, mechanical AI intelligence that helps them perceive their surroundings, which comes in as a constant stream of pure data and filtered into an alternate virtual reality for the pilot.

    Film 
  • eXistenZ has biological computers which interface with you through plugging a very phallic tentacle into a port in the base of your spine. The movie plays this for all it's worth, even having characters lick the ports of other characters during sex scenes.
  • The Matrix has every human used by the machines outfitted with a port in the back of the skull to plug into the matrix. In Zion, humans with the port are plugged into a machine that... apparently lets them manipulate a huge 3-D computer interface. Non-vat grown humans can't get one installed, either. This means that natives of Zion, or in other words the grown up children of Matrix escapees, have to content themselves with either flying the hovercraft, or playing "Operator", which means plugging people into the Matrix, getting them out, and giving them weaponry while they're in there. Well, in theory they could give them anything, but it's often guns. Lots of guns.
  • 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.
  • Upldr has the protagonist working to develop this technology that enables people to upload or download brains.

    Literature 
  • The LINK, in Archangel Protocol. The LINK brain implant is done at birth, and gives access to the VR internet, or LINK, when it is activated at 18. And, of course, it is permanently disabled if a person is excommunicated or an atheist. All commerce and communication is done via the LINK, and once cut off, the last recourse is MouseNET, the hacker Mouse's free part of the LINK, and what remains of the old, unregulated internet. Comparatively low in bandwidth compared to the rest of the LINK, Russia's entire economy runs via MouseNET.
  • Neuromancer practically invented this trope, especially as regards the Cyberpunk genre.
  • Telepathy runs computers in The Culture.
    • 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 Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy (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 (Midnight) where 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.
  • The Hitchhiker's 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.
  • In George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran series, this is mainly used with the customized portable devices called "moddies" (personality overlays used for entertainment) and "daddies" (add-ons that provide specific skills, like languages or technical expertise). Many people have sockets in their head for at least one moddy and a couple of daddies. The sockets can also be connected to more general-purpose computers and multi-player video games.
  • Renos in Aristoi, which partially inspired the mesh inserts in Eclipse Phase.
  • This is what the titular Nexus 5 does for a human in TheNexusSeries. Nexus allows nanomachines to bind to the human brain and map itself into a usable architecture during a psychedelic "calibration phase". Afterwards, anyone running nexus can communicate entire emotions, ideas, and memories to anyone else with the architecture. This doesn't even touch on what happens if someone has a back-door.

    Live Action TV 
  • The skin of the advanced Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica is light-sensitive. If they have to use primitive fiber-optic cables, they can (painfully) insert that cable into their forearm to interface with computers (but they have to make an incision first). Typically, on their own ships, they can interface with their own ships by putting their hands in a stream of luminous water called the "datastream". It's unclear if there are electrical or biochemical transmitters to go with the light-based data connection, but it sure looks cool, especially with nearby displays that show oddly familiar data glyphs in a falling pattern. 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 Star Trek: 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 EB Es, Electronic Brain Enhancements, chips that students can plug into their heads to help with their revision but which they can become addicted to.
  • The entire premise of Intelligence is that US Cyber Command has installed a wireless-enabled computer chip in Gabriel Vaughn, a former Delta Force operator, to create "the next generation of intelligence."
  • In Farscape, unlike normal Leviathans, Talyn is designed to implant a Peacekeeper pilot with an implant in the base of the neck that connects their nervous systems wirelessly.

    Pinball 
  • In Bally's Xenon, people plug wires into jacks in their heads to interface with the titular supercomputer.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun and nearly every work of Cyber Punk 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.
  • More advanced Warhammer 40,000 vehicles and war machines are often plugged directly into the pilot's brain. In a rather low-tech way.
  • 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. For standard issue control interfaces in BattleMechs, however, the ubiquitous Neurohelmet is used. Instead of invasive neurosurgery, all the neurohelmet requires is a clean haircut around the temples and a tolerance for a scalp-crawling sensation. Depending on the technological capacity of the time period, neurohelmets can range from something the size of a real-life fighter helmet to giant bulky crude 10 pound monstrosities.

    Video Games 
  • Deus Ex mentions an occipital note  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
    • Early in Deus Ex: Human Revolution you encounter a "Purist" hacker with a "neural hub". The fact that an anti-aug terrorist has wires sticking out of his skull is one of the first major hints that something is up.
  • 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 20km 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).
    • There is debate about whether ships flown by pod pilots actually have any crew at all or have completely automated systems, but it is normally accepted that smaller ships have none, while large ships have significantly smaller crews than would be needed without a pod pilot.
    • One of the Chronicles confirms that a Apocalypse battleship has over two thousand crew who go down with the ship.
  • System Shock. It actually makes sense from the player's perspective.
  • The Dreamer consoles in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.
  • Halo has all members of the UNSC Defense Force equipped with a neural interface in the back of their skulls, used for Identify: Friend/Foe purposes and a Helmet Mounted Sight primarily, but also for data storage. Ship commanders such as Captain Jacob Keyes, meanwhile, have command neural interfaces for specialized information involved in their command. 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 a Spartan neural interface, Cortana increased the Master Chief's compatibility with his MJOLNIR armor, and can have further access to his suit's systems.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the Overlord system is a horrific example of this. In desperation, the lead scientist hooked up his autistic brother into the computer's mainframe, which drove him half insane in the process. Those repeated static burst you hear? It's him screaming, "Please! Make it stop!"
    • In Mass Effect 3, the Geth use similar technology to allow Shepard to enter the Geth concensus, in order to de-bug the Reaper code thats infected their systems.
  • Near the end of Machinarium, you have to connect your brain with that of the huge-headed leader. You view his mind as a tiny-screened 8-bit game, with the objective of shooting out 33 viruses that were planted by one of the villains. Of course, EVERYONE'S a robot in this game.

     Web Comics 
  • From Girl Genius, The Throne of Faustus Heterodyne. It can be reasonably described as creepy.
  • The Cool Car driven by Gene Catlow and Catswhisker can be driven normally... or by thought. The latter method, however, proves difficult to operate.
  • 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 21st 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. While cyborgs may have a cortical jack. 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".
  • Occipital computers ("Ocks") are uncommon in Escape From Terra, they can also get a tangle-net upgrade.
  • Implants are fairly common in Quantum Vibe, though Beltapes typically don't get them as they were once enslaved using them. Nicole got hers in order to download the basic skills to pilot a Helio-flyer, and notably jacked it into her flyer when a solar flare fried the normal controls.
  • In Not A Villain, Kleya uses a sophisticated brain-computer interface, but disguises it to conceal her identity.
  • Magience uses a “neuron entrainment” headset. It works even when the user is asleep.
  • In S.S.D.D Tessa's squad have nanobot implants that are primarily used for Electronic Telepathy, though they can interface with some compatible technology such as their Powered Armor.

     Web Original 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • In Megas XLR, Coop meets a future version of himself, and their future Kiva is hooked up to a machine through her brain.
  • In Regular Show, after Techmo fails to take down a virus with a super-hi-tech keyboard complete with DOUBLE holo-Pads, he plugs himself into the computer in this manner. It doesn't quite go according to plan, though.

     Real Life 

Beehive BarrierFuturistic Tech IndexCloning Body Parts
Black Market ProduceCyberpunk TropesBrain in a Jar
Ghost in the ShellImageSource/Animated FilmsTinman Typist
Born as an AdultSpeculative Fiction TropesBrain in a Jar

alternative title(s): Neural Interface
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