More and more of what we see in Cyberpunk 2077 is designed to interface with your brain. But our protagonist, V, hasn’t had a Matrix-esque installation of hardware at the start of the game. V is just a normal human.
So how does all this hardware connect? Is there even enough room in the human brain for all this tech?
Running Out of Headspace
It’s made clear to V early on that they’re not going to get far in Night City without upgrading. That seems true enough — it’s hard to avoid a scrap now and then, and the non-violent path might require some tech-assisted hacking and sneaking. So your initial upgrades – which you add to throughout the game – will have to interface with your brain at the very least. At most, they’ll take up physical space in your brain.
Not too much further in the game is when you get the immortality chip. This is a large, physical chip that definitely goes in your brain, and is the source of an entirely separate person in Johnny Silverhand.
A few hours into the game and it’s starting to get a bit crowded in that cranium of yours. Is there even enough physical room for all of this?
Science fiction is, traditionally, an extrapolation of what we think is possible based on what we know at the time. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t deliver — we’re still waiting on those hoverboards from Back to the Future 2.
Our closest jumping-off point for brain implants is Neuralink, one of Elon Musk’s newer companies dedicated to brain implants. Most of its functionality is increasing bandwidth, so the different regions of the brain can communicate more information, curing ailments like paralysis.
Neuralink’s implant is tiny, but it’s not nothing. One can safely say the technology will be improved, but it’s going to need to do a lot more than increase bandwidth if it’s going to live up to the promises Cyberpunk 2077 is making…
Back to the Cyberpunk Future
It’s kind of assumed at this point that technology will be good enough to simulate entire experiences, flawlessly recreating all of the senses. Universes from The Matrix to Ready Player One have even imagined the negative effects of this, as we lose our connection to reality.
Cyberpunk 2077 takes this one step further with the Braindance system, which is like watching a recording of an experience from the inside of someone else’s brain. It’s possible to isolate all the tangential whispers the subject may have picked up but not even noticed, and the recording even simulates the adrenaline spikes and other aspects not strictly tied to sight, sound, and touch.
It’s not clear whether this system requires any hardware installed in your brain; judging by the screenshots, it may just be a matter of external machinery blasting your brain with undefined wavelengths. But extracting Braindance recordings has been known to be traumatic, with the early volunteers being mentally scarred later in life.
Braindance is a form of hacking in itself, and one they haven’t quite perfected yet. But according to Musk, we’re not too far away from it, even with the tiny hardware they’re currently using over at Neuralink.
That’s an important point, since computer chips as we know them won’t actually be getting much smaller than they are now. For years we’ve looked to Moore’s Law as a truism: the speed and capability of our computers will increase, while we pay less for them. But after 55 years, Moore’s Law recently hit a wall. Nvidia’s CEO declared it “dead.” At a certain point, the elements on a chip become so close they start to interfere with each other, even though they’re not touching.
It’s down to quantum computing to solve this, since it can use the same amount of space to harness a power that’s currently unfathomable — calculations so vast they potentially break encryption. But there are all sorts of challenges with miniaturising a quantum computer to the point where it can be casually used in a consumer environment for Braindancing. Current quantum computers, for example, have to be kept below -272°C.
If this was Mythbusters, right now we’d be saying this myth is busted — there’s just not enough room in your dome for all this business. At least not before the year of our digital lord, 2077. Braindancing and Keanu as a full-time head-friend is looking like 2020’s version of hoverboards.
None of that is going to stop us from loving the heck out of Cyberpunk 2077, of course. Maybe we’ll even go full Borg, like Adam Smasher, and accept as many implants as possible. Musk, eat your heart out.