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Part 5: Human Interface

Cyborgs—creatures half man, half machine that inhabit the nether reaches of space and the imaginations of viewers of Star Trek: The Next Generation—differ from the union of you and your computer only in a matter of degree. They represent the intimate interconnection of human neurons and post-silicon circuitry, where human-like bodies receive direct signals from a master wireless network, including modest directives of the nature to subjugate, enslave, assimilate, or destroy Earth. Cyborgs are most scary because they are imaginable, understandable, and—we shudder with growing awareness—possible sooner than we think.

Scary, too, because you're already directly communicating with your computer. You've used your thoughts to guide and control your computer, to tell it what to do. And it commands you, too. Think of that last trip you took when you surfed over to Mapquest.com for directions. A giant computer network told you what to do. Although you were free to ignore the commands, you probably followed them for fear of hearing your wheels slowly grinding themselves down to the axles in mud, lost in a world so dark, gloomy, and far from civilization that even your cell phone won't work.

The difference between you at your computer and a cyborg is only the communication channel and code. The cyborg technology of science fiction has mastered the interface between biological electrical circuitry and electronics, and it has cracked the code your body uses for nerve impulses and the thoughts inside your brain.

The first time you tried to communicate with your computer such a direct connection probably sounded pretty good, especially if you had no previous skills with a keyboard. Direct thought control of your computer would eliminate all of that finger-torture and even speed everything up—at least until some of your inner thoughts started to muck things up. Worse yet, your brain would be flooded by the computer's responses to your commands directly altering your own thoughts. Certainly it would be great for the computer to fill your brain with the right directions when you want to go someplace, but the computer might just as well flood your gray matter with the belief that you actually wanted to go somewhere. It might even make you think you're already there or create a world of entire fantasy. Such ideas have given science fiction writers a field day—and a wealth of plots to explore—which would be wonderful if you weren't the subject of the experiments.

In other words, the interface between you and your computer is yet another case of "be careful what you wish for." Today's communications systems are primitive, indeed, but they work, and what you really want may not be what you really want. You may long for something better—the grass is always greener in the other guy's photo-editing program—but today's connections between you and your computer do a pretty good job of bringing disparate worlds together.

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