Recurring components of BCI-fi

“BCI exaggeration” is common in BCI-fi as well as journalism (Racine et al., 2010; Allison, 2009, 2011). BCIs are presented as much more powerful than BCIs are today or will be soon. On the contrary, we haven’t found any examples of the opposite – a BCI-fi BCI that modern BCIs can outperform. “The Cage” may be an exception, since BCIs have advanced beyond YES/NO control for some patient groups. However, we can’t say for sure since we don’t know how delta radiation causes disability.

BCIs are rarely used alone. BCI-fi typically presents BCIs as part of a broader system that includes CBIs.

BCIs are usually used by evil people for evil purposes.

BCIs may be inspired by reality, but typically indirectly. With the major exception of Red Devil 4, nearly all BCI-fi is written by people who aren’t experts in the field. We see little evidence of authors or others involved in crafting BCI-fi studying BCIs or consulting experts.

These recurring components usually occur together, leading to the stereotypical BCI/CBI in most BCI-fi. BCI-fi most often presents BCIs as a tool to interact with an immersive virtual environment along with a CBI. This environment is flawless; that is, it’s so effective that people can’t distinguish it from reality.  Aside from other reasons such environments aren’t feasible today, BCIs have nowhere close to the vocabulary nor bandwidth for such interactions. One major challenge is the unlimited, untrained vocabulary that these BCIs can handle. Modern BCIs can only detect one out of a small set of pre-specified brain signals corresponding to specific mental activities, such as counting, imagining left hand movement, or observing specific areas of a monitor. BCIs are poor at identifying and using novel mental activities and corresponding brain signals. Furthermore, thoughts about a specific image, video or music clip, or physical feeling are invisible to modern BCIs. BCIs also lack the bandwidth for such seamless interactions with virtual environments.


Allison, B. Z. (2009). Toward Ubiquitous BCIs. In Brain-computer interfaces (pp. 357-387). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Allison, B.Z. (2011). The Fringes of Neurotechnology. In Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists, ??check page numbers, ed. K. Grazier, SmartPop, ISBN: 1935618687.

Racine, E., Waldman, S., Rosenberg, J. and Illes, J. (2010). Contemporary neuroscience in the media. Social science & medicine, 71(4), pp.725-733.