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We’ve all seen the sci-fi movies where futuristic computer users are able to connect their brains directly to the network, usually via nice little ports implanted in their necks. No need for a keyboard or mouse to input data, no need for a monitor to view the system’s output. Of course, in those movies, something very bad usually ends up happening to our plugged-in hero. It’s annoying and expensive when a power surge blows your monitor but it beats the heck out of having the same thing happen to your grey matter.

It makes for a cool storyline – but are we getting close to seeing it turn into reality? This article on (hardly a haven for off-the-wall technology predictions) describes how it’s already happening.

Short version: A quadriplegic man has learned to control his computer using just his brainwaves, which are translated by a tiny implant that reads the electrical impulses from his brain. What are the ramifications for the rest of us?

Some scientists are predicting that one day, interfacing with your computer via a keyboard will be just as obsolete as throwing binary switches or punching paper tape to input data is today. And of course, networking is already all about communicating and collaborating with others. We use the network to send email or instant messages. In the future, when we’re all plugged in, will we enjoy a technology-assisted form of telepathy, where we only have to think our message to have it delivered directly to the recipient’s brain?

I have to admit that, much as I generally love to be on the cutting edge of new technology, I’m more frightened than excited by the prospect. First of all, imagine the security issues that would arise with this scenario. I feel violated enough if my computer’s hard drive gets hacked; I don’t think I want to deal with attackers whose viruses install a “back door” to my cerebral cortex. And the thought of all that brain spam cluttering up my thought processes makes me shudder.

It just so happens that I really like my keyboard. As a writer, I’ve often said I tend to “think with my fingers” – that is, I can compose better material, more quickly, typing on a keyboard than I can without it. That’s why I’ve never much liked any of the voice transcription software I’ve tried. Even if it were completely accurate, I just don’t feel as natural speaking my thoughts as typing them. Of course, it helps that I can touch type at around 90 wpm. I recognize that some folks probably feel just the opposite, and others have no real choice because they’re physically unable to operate a keyboard. But I think I’ll be keeping my old input methods for the foreseeable future.

What about you? Are you eagerly looking forward to the day when you can become one with the network, or does the idea make you a little uneasy, too? Do you think this technology will really spread to the mainstream, or remain a specialized tool for the disabled? What benefits and dangers do you see attached to such direct connections?

Deb Shinder