What on earth is brainjacking, and should you be worried about it? It depends…

“Let’s just burn your mind out”. It’s December 2020 and Laurie Pycroft is pumped. The noir, hyperviolent and futuristic videogame Cyberpunk 2077 has just been released and Pycroft is livestreaming his first play. A nefarious character with a brain implant has come into view and Pycroft has several ‘quickhacks’ that might bring him down, including ‘synapse burnout’, ‘short circuit’ and ‘memory wipe’.

Pycroft opts for synapse burnout and promptly overloads the bad actor’s brain with voltage, dropping him to the ground in a stroke-like paralysis.

Pycroft’s interest in Cyberpunk 2077 is not purely recreational. He researches the security of implanted brain devices as a doctoral student at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences. In a landmark 2016 article, Pycroft coined the term “brainjacking” for what might happen should an ill-intentioned agent gain access to someone else’s brain implant, an outcome that Cyberpunk 2077 riffs on with chilling virtuosity.

So what, precisely, is brainjacking – and could any of the quickhacks in Cyberpunk really happen?

Read this article in Cosmos magazine here (a subscription to Cosmos Weekly is needed)