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Polar explorers find failed alien colony This question mentions a story in which a brain implant enhances intelligence and the answer seems to be a story from 1963.

I wonder when the first time this idea arose in scifi (or even non-fiction)? 1963 seems very early given the size of machines in those days. The idea of a computer enhancing human intelligence is older; I asked a question about a mentally-handicapped woman who was helped by a machine and Machine Made came from a decade earlier.

I am specifically looking for a computer that is implanted.

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  • In Heinlein's 1942 story "Waldo" there aren't actual computer implants but it's pretty close.
    – Spencer
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:38
  • @Spencer "Waldo" didn't have intelligence enhancement -- Waldo was already a genius -- but instead introduced the idea of telefactoring to the world at large. In story this was derived from Waldo's inventions to augment his defective body.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:45
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    Would you included implanted communication devices connected to an external computer?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:47
  • @ZeissIkon Thus a comment, but I found something better to make an actual answer.
    – Spencer
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:04
  • Are you only looking for stories of brain/machine interfaces used to increase intelligence, or are you also interested in stories where a computing machine of some kind totally replaced the brain in a human skull?
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:07

4 Answers 4

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A very early story about a thinking machine in a human body is the 1879 story "The Ablest Man in the World" by Edward Page Mitchell. The story features a cyborg character who had a kind of clockwork computer, said in the story to be similar (but superior) to the real-life difference engine created by Charles Babbage, implanted into his skull. The machine seems to have replaced the original human brain entirely rather than augmenting it (see the part I put in bold below), but you said in a comment that you would consider this type of story as well. The whole thing can be read online at Project Gutenberg here. Here is the character Dr. Rapperschwyll describing the creation of the cyborg:

"My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far beyond Babbage's in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage's cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the philosophers call the `personal equation.' My machine eliminated the personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.

...

"Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature, had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect. The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a little over the ablest men around him. Yet that little was everything, and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.

"Now, to fuse these three propositions into one: suppose that I take a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly, into the burly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await the inevitable result with the tranquillity of a philosopher.

"Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they called Stépan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard, spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste, but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first saw him.

"I begged Stépan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my triumph. I took Stépan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. I could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago. To-day Stépan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake."

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It was probably difficult to imagine, prior to transistors and miniaturized electronics, that some device could be placed in the brain to augment a human. However, someone did.

The subject of E.V. Odle's 1923 novel The Clockwork Man (fulltext) is a man from a far-future society with clockwork mechanisms built into his head, who, through some malfunction of the clockwork, has wound up on a British cricket pitch in 1923. From the following it's clear this is an augmented human and not a completely mechanical being:

"But how could it be?" exclaimed Allingham, kicking a loose stone in his walk. "This clock, I mean. It's--" He fumbled hopelessly for words with which to express new doubts. "What is this clock?"

"It's an instrument," rejoined Gregg, leaning over the side of the car. "Evidently it has some sort of effect upon the fundamental processes of the human organism. That's clear, to me. Probably it replaces some of the ordinary functions and alters others. One gets a sort of glimmer--of an immense speeding up of the entire organism, and the brain of man developing new senses and powers of apprehension. They would have all sorts of second sights and subsidiary senses. They would feel their way about in a larger universe, creep into all sorts of niches and corners unknown to us, because of their different construction."

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    very interesting and clockwork is only the early 20th century man's description of the technology. the idea of mechanical thinking machines is older. e.g. The Turk and the new idea of merging such a device with a living human is therefore not too surprising. note also that a real devices using electrical relays that could mate using a king and rook vs king was created earlier than this story. chessprogramming.org/El_Ajedrecista
    – releseabe
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:03
  • This section also suggests the machine in his head was driving an organic brain: the Doctor had visualised something in the nature of an instrument affixed to the Clockwork man's head, and perhaps connected with his cerebral processes. Was it a kind of super-brain? Had there been found some means of lengthening the convolutions of the human brain, so that man's thought travelled further and so enabled him to arrive more swiftly at ultimate conclusions? ... in some way the cerebral energy of man had been stored up, as electricity in a battery, and then released by mechanical processes.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:21
  • @Hypnosifl Battery, Eh? Sounds like a version of The Matrix!
    – Spencer
    Jan 7, 2023 at 21:44
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Possibly not the first, but Barrington J. Bayley's The Pillars of Eternity (1982) featured "Adplants" -- ADP implants, with ADP standing for Automatic Data Processing -- that were very common, and the few very rare "bonemen" in whom the adplant, which normally replaced a piece of the skull bone, was expanded to replace the entire skeleton. This made the bonemen supermen of the mental sort -- if they could survive the process of implantation and the extreme level of processing potentially overloading their human brain.

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  • interesting but as you indicate, not the first by a longshot and by 1982, the idea of putting the now much-smaller devices in the human head to increase/augment mental abilities must have occurred to many. it is when computers filled rooms that imagining such devices fitting in a small space and also, since big machines tended to be used for data processing, that they had something to do with intelligence was a leap although the latter, since they called them "electronic brains" maybe not such a leap.
    – releseabe
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:21
  • @releseabe Minicomputers that existed in 1982 were only "mini" by comparison with the mainframes that had dominated computing since the 1960s. Microcomputers of the day were barely able to put text on a screen and cost as much as a (low end) new car.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:25
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    the key thing was integrated circuit.
    – releseabe
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:35
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In the Movie D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) the title character seems to have the living biological body of a human boy, but some (unspecified) proportion of his intelligence and identity is contained in implanted computer chips.

In Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Captain Kirk has a chip implanted which allows him to receive messages from Star Fleet Command, including video feeds.

I'm certain that I have seen at least one old movie or tv show where tiny devices were implanted into humans to control them, thus in a sense "helping" the humans by "enhancing their intelligence enabling them to realize they should switch sides to supporting the aliens instead of humans". And I seem to remember a scene where an implanted control device was removed, thrown to the floor and ground to pieces by a boot.

In Invaders From Mars (1953) the invading Martians implanted mind control crystals in humans to control them.

Of course alien invasion stories where humans were controlled by parasitic lifeforms were more common.

In the classic short story "The Mechanical Mice" (1941) by Maurice G. Hugi and Eric Frank Russell there is a scene where characters use a time viewer to see a future scene. A scene in the 30th century when people are controlled by cubical boxes worn on their heads. Those boxes don't seem to be connected to the brain but control it from a very short distance. So not exactly like computers physically inserted in to the brain.

In E.E. Smith's The Skylark of Valeron (1934, 1949) the hero Seaton creates the gigantic space ship named The Skylark of Valeron, which is controlled by a gigantic super computer, and Seaton wears a control helmet which reads his thoughts, making the control computer and the ship an extension of Seaton's brain and mind.

So there have been many stories about machine-mind interfaces to enhance human mental powers or to enhance their obedience to their masters. Many times as many as the few I have remembered here.

So the question should be which was the first machine-mind interface where the machine was inside the human body.

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