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Hollywood Got There First

For decades, a brain-computer interface (BCI )—the technology being developed at the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses—has starred in science fiction films, where the melding of humans and machines has led to new worlds of paranoia and possibility. Here are six films that are beginning to look less like fiction and more like offshoots of the science being done in our local labs.

The Matrix
Computer-human relations go bad in this BCI -dominated film, in which computer overlords keep humans in a placative digital reality. The only hope for humanity is to unplug and reboot.

The Cell
Jennifer Lopez uses a BCI technology called a “neurological synaptic transfer system” to enter the brain of a sadistic serial killer. “It not only maps the mind,” says a technician explaining the technology, “but it sends the signal to another party.”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A BCI hookup allows people with broken hearts to erase specific parts of their memory—but the romantic memories try to outwit the technology by finding sanctuary in less conspicuous corners of the mind.

Sleep Dealer
In this low-budget film, neural jacks connect low-wage Mexican workers to robots doing dangerous, undesirable jobs in U.S. cities
and around the world. The same technology is also used to record and sell personal experiences on an open-market, Craigslist-like exchange.

A full-body tanning salon–like BCI enables human projection into the synthetic bodies of Na’vi natives on planet Pandora. Sigourney Weaver plays a xenobotanist who discovers that each Na’vi is a node in a bigger neural network, an oft cited dream of real BCI hopefuls who predict a melding of individual minds via BCI technology.

With the help of BCI, corporate spies are able to enter people’s minds and dreams in order to uncover and steal their secrets. Once inside, the spies can build and destroy whole interior worlds within the subjective reality of the dreamers.