Skip to main content

Do you want a brain-computer interface?

System Shock
(Image credit: Nightdive Studios)

"We're way closer to The Matrix than people realize," Valve's Gabe Newell said in a recent interview. "It's not going to be The Matrix—The Matrix is a movie and it misses all the interesting technical subtleties and just how weird the post-brain-computer interface world is going to be."

Do you want a brain-computer interface? What kind of games would it be worth using for? And would it be worth the cost, in terms of how it could be exploited?

Here are some of our ideas, plus a few from our forum members.

Christopher Livingston: I think I'll pass. We already can't visit a website or ask Alexa something without that data being harvested and sold to advertisers. There are always hacks and data breaches happening to send our passwords to the highest bidder. And now we're hoping to connect our brains directly to a computer? At least with a keyboard I can choose what I ask a computer. I don't need the computer just reaching directly into my brain to discover how often I think about butts. And then sending me butt advertisements every time I plug my brain in. And getting hacked for the passwords for the many, many butt websites I have memberships for. No thank you! I'd prefer that remain private!

Andy Chalk: Absolutely not. Chris nailed it: The online world is inherently insecure, and the last thing I need is some idiot doing a Johnny Mnemonic into my brain and getting an up-close look at all that's going on in there. Which isn't to say that I'm worried I'll accidentally confess to multiple murders or anything, because that totally never happened, but I need my "me" space, you know?

It works the other way, too. I've already inflicted massive amounts of what is very likely irreversible psychic damage upon myself through my life online, and that's just with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Do I really want to pour all of that directly into my frontal cortex, with nothing to protect my immortal soul but an optimistic hope that the Google Overlords won't decide one day that, hey, we're just gonna keep this switched on 24/7, yeah?

Not a chance.

Wes Fenlon: Brain-computer interfaces are one of those ideas that always sounded great, but nothing about our modern history of technology implies they'd really be a good idea. I think they'd actually be nightmarish—they'd probably give us migraines, distract us with notifications even more than smartphones, and somehow give giant corporations even more reign over our lives than they already have. And they'd probably look about as dorky as "The Game" in Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

As much as I don't want one myself, I do think brain-machine interfaces could be massively beneficial for those who are disabled and can't otherwise use a mouse and keyboard or smartphone. Voice controls are still pretty rudimentary, and the day we can effectively control computers without moving or speaking, millions of people will be able to access information and jobs that aren't currently available to them. 

(Image credit: Mediagenic)

Jarred Walton: As a blissfully naive youth, I played Neuromancer on the C-64 and then went looking for the book. Neuromancer remains one of my favorite books, more than three decades later. It's probably part of why I became such a computer hardware nerd. It led me down a rabbit hole where I went and read every cyberpunk book I could find—many of which were quite awful. I longed for the day when I could just jack into the matrix and do all sorts of cool hacker stuff. Who wouldn't want that? Grownup me, that's who.

Besides all the privacy and security concerns, if it became possible to be connected 24/7 through a brain interface, there would be other major problems in society. We'd have a whole new level of couch potatoness available, and there would definitely be new types of addicts. Plus, who's going to feed me when I'm busy doing matrixy things? We won't even talk about waste management, and I'm pretty sure we wouldn't actually make good batteries.

Of course, whether I think it's a good idea for me or not, I still think it's going to happen. The world will just have to deal with the fallout. If you're looking for a good modern cyberpunk take on things, check out Accelerando by Charles Stross. Our new machine overlords may not intend us any harm, but at some point they probably just won't care.

Shadowrun Returns

(Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

Jody Macgregor: If reality gives us full-on Snow Crash immersive experiences then sign me up. I would plug a chrome attachment into my skull and then stare into the middle distance and say, "I'm in." That would rule.

I don't think it'll be like that, though. We say the brain is like a computer because it makes a fine analogy for helping us understand the brain. But the idea we'll be able to put wires in our heads, stimulate some neurons, and fool our bodies into thinking we're 100% in the Matrix or whatever seems ludicrous. If living in 2020 should have taught us anything it's that nothing from science fiction is as cool in reality as we thought it would be in books. We'll get brain-computer interfaces, and they'll suck in ways we can't even imagine. 

(Image credit: Supergiant)

From our forum

Frindis: I can see this be the next great thing making communication for mobility-impaired people much more efficient than what we have today. I also believe this could even help blind people be able to see through a virtual world, instead of just small patterns representing an object.

Biggly: Definitely an exciting prospect, but really far-fetched. Right now, I don't think there's any need for a brain interface anyway, current VR feels like a paradigm shift in the way people are gaming in the same way 3D superseded 2D. Certainly the Oculus S is immersive enough to trick my brain into thinking I'm clinging to a cliff on the Matterhorn, or a T-Rex is going to eat me.

I suppose it's missing a full range of tactile interactions that a brain interface could provide, or smell, even taste. I can't imagine having fun while being torn apart by a zombie in Half-Life though.

LCarlson: I would love a brain-machine interface, but technology is only great until it isn't. We still don't have a good handle on VR/AR yet. Self-driving cars are not a thing, and whatever happened to flying cars by 2020? Tech has a habit of failing in odd ways when we least expect it, and I'd not want to fully rely on it for anything, especially not hooking it up to my mushy li'l organic body.

Heck, this morning I could barely get my rural internet to allow me to join an important work call, while Google was flatly NOPE to my attempts to synch my account. In other words, I don't think our tech is trustworthy enough. I don't expect it in my lifetime, but hey, if I die and can upload my consciousness... I'm all in for that!

Hey folks, beloved mascot Coconut Monkey here representing the collective PC Gamer editorial team, who worked together to write this article!