Premise: bio-tech golden age where "wetware" is the new IT meta, organic AI that can interface with our standard computing technology.

In this context, I'm imagining a future technology that would regulate data flow between the brain and external binary data.

Hyphal sheaths are a key element of mycorrhizzal fungi structure: filaments called hyphae sheathe tree roots, like a sleeve, and regulate nutrient uptake and distribution (among other functions). Fungal brain parasites are common as dirt: I'm imagining an engineered fungal parasite that would be planted in the host brain and translate binary data into neural data, sheathing neurons, nerves, weaving into sections of the brain, with a "plug" to jack into, à la Existenz/Matrix for full sensory simulation or man-machine interfacing.

Just looking for opinions and criticism to make this as credible as possible in a sci-fi setting maybe 100 years down the line.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't really have time for an elaborate answer, but this sounds pretty reasonable given some advanced genetic engineering. The main 'constraint' I see is the data transfer rate - even if the fungi are made into quasi neurons (or 'biological wires'), you probably only want to interface with a specific brain region to create an artificial sensory input organ - reading/loading content is then still limited by how fast you can understand something from sensory input. $\endgroup$
    – Nicolai
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 17:04

3 Answers 3


I say run with it!

The vast, vast, vast majority of people who read your story won't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. They wouldn't know an hyphal sheath if it was used like spaghetti to slap them in the face — much less realize it isn't the kind of thing you can use to slap someone in the face.

But it sounds cool. Honking cool. And when the readers swarm the Internet to look it up the fact that it's referenced in a Wikipedia entry means that it's real! They still haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about, but now you're an authority! and your book has credibility!

The handful of geneticists who read your book will certainly recognize that you're pulling everyone's collective leg — but, honestly, what do you care about them?

Now, why do I say this?

Because I've read many books that tried to incorporate really cool electronics into their story, and indeed it was creative and imaginative. I enjoyed the books thoroughly! But, being an electrical engineer, I laughed for an hour when I read those sections becuase it was obvious to one "practiced in the art" that the author had just enough knowledge about the solution to present it credibly but not enough knowledge to know he/she was so far in left field that Babe Ruth couldn't land a ball in their glove.

And I didn't care one bit, because I was happily suspending my disbelief and enjoying an imaginative and creative story.

I think you've come up with a very imaginative explanation that sounds so much better than Star Trek technobabble. Run with it!

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    $\begingroup$ You are right, sometimes we go too far in the name of credibility, when suspension of disbelief isn't always a function of consistent worldbuilding. If i can make the reader care about a character, they will often overlook some convenient magicking. $\endgroup$
    – yannicus
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ I completely agree with @JBH. Whether it's fantasy magic, or far-future tech, there's nothing better than imaginative fiction. In fact, the best fiction avoids explanations for the that which cannot be explained, but maintains credibility for the areas that can. Star Wars suffered from over-explanation when they introduced "midi-chlorians". Jurrasic Park (the movie, not the book) accurately portrayed the FSN software on Unix OS (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fsn_(file_manager)) -- but, unfortunately, instantly destroyed that realism by having a 12 year-old girl announce that she knew Unix. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ As a final example ... in the book "Under The Dome" -- Stephen King introduced a fantastic idea. Even after the cause of the dome was discovered, it continued to remain a mystery, with no clear explanation as to how it worked. However, when it came to everything else, he consulted heavily with expert sources (including a medical doctor) to ensure accuracy in everything from his descriptions of a brain tumor to viable survival techniques. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ JBH is right! This is a very cool solution to one of thousands of problems with a brain interfacer, handwave the rest, run with it. Keep the fungi hydrated and well sugared, perhaps have them usurp the glia as interstitial entities, give them photo-reactive enzymes so you can interface with the fungi by light, not by electricity, thereby bypassing a host of interfacing headaches, have a nice brandname for the companion-programs that will inevitably run on that wetware (shroomate?). Very beautiful idea. (Check out VanderMeer and his Southern Reach Trilogy, he also has fungus/brain interaction) $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 20:49

This seems like a cool idea, but there may be some complications:

  1. It is immensely more difficult to control biological organisms as compared to electric circuits because there is not a lot of abstractions and invariants in the workings of biological organisms.

  2. Biological organisms need resources other than energy (which is also much more difficult to provide). Such matter would be difficult to provide non-invasively.

  3. We need to genetically engineer the fungus to decode the brain and encode our signals anyways, so why can't we just make that algorithm purely in a PCB? Consumers would trust circuits more than fungus (unless there is a cultural shift).

Considering these factors, it seems unlikely that such a signal would come into being, although it does seem possible.

  • $\begingroup$ 1) mhhh - i just said to my coworker (bio-based): 'give me that pen', and he gave me that pen. When i said 'Play Metal' to Alexa(circuits) i got toilet paper in the mail the next day.... $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ 2) If you shroom your brain, you can also suffuse it in sugary vitamin solution, no prob. 3) "Decoding the brain" is currently done using tech that borrows heavily from nature ("deep learning"), and is actually hampered by the binary system it has to work from. Though that part of the original question also bugs me - what would a fungus bring to the table in translating digital to analog? $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 20:59

As much as I enjoyed the original Matrix movie, the idea of uploading mental data was nothing beyond a plot element.

We remember things through experiences. Any information, or binary data, would first have to be converted into a simulated, tangible experience. Memory storage With every experience, the hippocampus and frontal cortex analyze the various sensory inputs and decide what's worth remembering -- choosing information that's considered relevant, and discarding the rest.
Even in regards to basic studying -- reading and listening to information is an experience in itself. Plus, some people are more visual, while others require hands-on. That's not even accounting for, an individual's background, ability to relate with the subject matter, past experiences, etc. etc.

Even if information was converted into a tangible, customized, relate-able experience, and transmitted to someone's mind, like in the Matrix -- it would result in a blurred, quickly forgotten, dream-like moment.
The neural pathways of the brain take time to form, and that alone would prevent any rapid transferal of information.

Your premise definitely has a great fictional quality to it -- but there's simply no way to factually support it.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the thoughtful response. I understand the whole "the brain is a computer" paradigm is a false analogy. One tangential way to bridge this gap between sensory input and tangible experience is the concept of dreams and hallucinations, which we don't understand very well yet. As a result I've been exploring the notion of the parasite creating tailored hallucinations by releasing ergolines or tryptamines (from my research, some psychotropic molecules can induce common hallucinations that every brain will experience similarly, ayahuasca for example). Will see what I can come up with ^^ $\endgroup$
    – yannicus
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ I like where you're going with it. Since the process would still take time, it would need to take place while the host is in some sort of suspended animation. It's an awesome idea though. A more instantaneous solution could be something like ... The genetically engineered parasites are designed as an extension of the brain with custom, pre-imprinted experiences. The parasite progressively bridges between the neural pathways during stages of rest (i.e. The host uses an injection before bed to induce sleep and trigger the parasite's activity). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 16:58

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