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henever I used to think about brain-computer interfaces (BCI), I typically imagined a world where the Internet was served up directly to my mind through cyborg-style neural implants—or basically how it’s portrayed in Ghost in the Shell. In that world, you can read, write, and speak to others without needing to lift a finger or open your mouth. It sounds fantastical, but the more I learn about BCI, the more I’ve come to realize that this wish list of functions is really only the tip of the iceberg. And when AR and VR converge with the consumer-ready BCI of the future, the world will be much stranger than fiction.

Be it Elon Musk’s latest company Neuralink—which is creating “minimally invasive” neural implants to suit a wide range of potential future applications, or Facebook directly funding research on decoding speech from the human brain—BCI seems to be taking an important step forward in its maturity. And while these well-funded companies can only push the technology forward for its use as a medical devices today thanks to regulatory hoops governing implants and their relative safety, eventually the technology will get to a point when it’s both safe and cheap enough to land into the brainpan’s of neurotypical consumers.

Although there’s really no telling when you or I will be able to pop into an office for an outpatient implant procedure (much like how corrective laser eye surgery is done today), we know at least that this particular future will undoubtedly come alongside significant advances in augmented and virtual reality. But before we consider where that future might lead us, let’s take a look at where things are today.

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