Wirehead (science fiction)

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The wires of an implanted DBS (deep brain stimulation) device are visible in an X-ray of the skull. Large white areas around maxilla and mandible are metal dentures and are unrelated to the DBS device

Wirehead is a term used in science fiction works to denote different kinds of interaction between people and technology. The typical wirehead idea is that of a wire going into a humans brain and safe amounts of electricity applied to the wire-conductor to directly interact with the brain.

Written Fiction[edit]

Known Space stories[edit]

In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, a wirehead is someone who has been fitted with an electronic brain implant (called a "droud" in the stories) to stimulate the pleasure centres of their brain. In the Known Space universe, wireheading is the most addictive habit known (Louis Wu is the only given example of a recovered addict), and wireheads usually die from neglecting themselves in favour of the ceaseless pleasure. Wireheading is so powerful and easy that it becomes an evolutionary pressure, selecting against that portion of Known Space humanity without self-control. Also in this science fiction there is a device called a "tasp" (similar to Transcranial magnetic stimulation) that does not need a surgical implant; the pleasure center of a person brain is found and remotely stimulated (a violation without getting the persons consent beforehand), an important Sci-Fi device in the Ringworld novels.

A wirehead's death is central to Niven's Gil 'the Arm' Hamilton story, Death by Ecstasy, published by Galaxy Magazine in 1969, and a main character in the book Ringworld Engineers is a former wirehead trying to quit.

Niven's stories explain wireheads by mentioning a study in which experimental rats had electrodes implanted at strategic locations in their brains, so that an applied current would induce a pleasant feeling. If the current could be obtained any time the rats pushed the lever, they would use it over and over, ignoring food and physical necessities until they died. Such experiments were actually conducted by James Olds and Peter Milner in the 1950s, first discovering the locations of such areas, and later showing extremes to which rats would go to obtain the stimulus again.[1][2]


Mindkiller, a 1982 sci-fi novel by Spider Robinson. The novel, set in the late 1980s, explores the social implications of technologies to manipulate the brain, beginning with wireheading, the use of electric current to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain in order to achieve a narcotic high.

Shaper/Mechanist stories[edit]

In the Shaper/Mechanist stories of Bruce Sterling, "wirehead" is the Mechanist term for a human who has given up corporeal existence and become an infomorph.

The Terminal Man[edit]

In The Terminal Man written by Michael Crichton, the character Harold Franklin "Harry" Benson is implanted with forty electrodes.


The Centurions (animated series)[edit]

In episode 41, "Zone Dancer" of The Centurions (TV series) animated series, the lead character Crystal Kane is accused of "Zone Dancing" (the series' term for computer hacking) and seen using a "droud" to interface her brain with computer networks in what is probably the first animated representation of Cyberspace and Virtual Reality. The story written by Michael Reaves weaves a future noir tale of cyberpunk espionage, cloning and private-eye procedural, all set in the universe of the animated series and makes copious references to William Gibson's Neuromancer story. There is even a Zone Dancer named Gibson and, in what may be an homage to Larry Niven's Louis Wu, a cyberneticst named Dr. Wu.


House was a television show with a main character named House that suffered from chronic pain. In episode Half-Wit, House seeks a medical procedure to stimulate the "pleasure center" of his brain.

Non-fictional examples[edit]

Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath actually placed electrodes in his subjects brains in the 1950s to try to treat their mental illness. Dr. Health wrote several papers on his work of stimulating the various regions of the brain.

José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado also placed electrodes in his patients brains. He called his inventions a "stimoceiver" and a "chemitrode".

  • 1972: A 24-year-old man with temporal lobe epilepsy, identified as patient "B-19". "He was permitted to wear the device for 3 hours at a time: on one occasion he stimulated his septal region 1,200 times, on another occasion 1,500 times, and on a third occasion 900 times. He protested each time the unit was taken from him, pleading to self-stimulate just a few more times... " [4][5][6]
  • 1986: A 48-year-old woman with chronic pain. "the patient self-stimulated throughout the day, neglecting personal hygiene and family commitments."[4]
  • 2012: Cathy Hutchinson who is paralyzed had one hundred electrodes placed on the surface of her brain. With this Brain–computer interface she is able to control a variety of devices.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Olds J, Milner P. "Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of septal area and other regions of rat brain." Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. 1954 Dec; 47(6):419-27.
  2. ^ Olds J. "Self-Stimulation of the Brain." Science”. 1958; 127:315-324.
  3. ^ Heath, R.G. (December 1, 1963) Electrical self-stimulation of the brain in man. American Journal of Psychiatry 120: 571-577.
  4. ^ a b http://mindhacks.com/2008/09/16/erotic-self-stimulation-and-brain-implants/
  5. ^ http://www.quora.com/Bradley-Voytek/Posts/The-most-unethical-study-Ive-ever-seen
  6. ^ Moan, C.E., & Heath, R.G. (1972) Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual activity in a homosexual male. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 3: 23-30.
  7. ^ "Paralyzed woman uses mind-control technology to operate robotic arm" by Scott Pelley CBS News May 16, 2012.