A research team led by Juníichi Ushiba of the Keio University Biomedical Engineering Laboratory has developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) system that will allow a user to walk an avatar through Second Life by thought alone. This is very close to what cyberspace cowboys can do in works like Vernor Vinge's Portal and William Gibson's Neuromancer.
(Brain-Computer Interface to Second Life video)
To control his avatar on the screen, the user simply thinks about moving different body parts. To move forward, the user thinks about moving his own feet. To turn right or left, the user imagines moving his left or right arm.
A headpiece monitors the motor cortex; an EEG machine graphs the data and forwards it to the BCI, which interprets the user's intended movements. A simple keyboard emulator then sends the appropriate keystrokes to Second Life. The end result: the user's avatar walks around in the virtual world without any keyboard interaction at all.
(Brain-Computer Interface at work in Second Life)
In science fiction terminology, this amounts to jacking halfway into the matrix. By "halfway," I mean that the element of moving an avatar in a virtual world without using an external device like a keyboard has been accomplished. However, the user still needs to use a primitive external monitor, rather than having the virtual world placed directly into his head.
For those lacking the sf background to fully appreciate this accomplishment, here are the references.
"As he pushed the computer's snub-tipped terminal node into the input jack on his left forearm, the android saw Leon Spaulding's lip tighten in a scowl of - what? Contempt, envy, patronizing scorn? ...At the click of contact, the computer impulses came flooding across the interface into his brain and he forgot about Spaulding..."
(Read more about jacking in from Tower of Glass )
"And just as a daydreamer forgets his actual surroundings, and sees other realities, so Pollack drifted, detached, his subconscious interpreting the status of the West Coast communications and data services as a vague thicket for his conscious mind to inspect and interrogate for the safest path..."
(Read more about the Portal from True Names )
"He'd operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a customized cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination known as the matrix.
The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games..."
(Read more about Cyberspace from Neuromancer )
"As Hiro approaches the street, he sees two couples probably using their parent's computer for a double date in the Metaverse. He's not seeing real people, of course. It's all part of a moving illustration created by his computer from specifications coming down the fiber optic cable. These people are pieces of software called avatars..."
(Read more about Avatars from Snow Crash )
Second Life, the wildly popular 3-D virtual world website with over 347,000 residents (and counting), is being used by corporations as well.
(Read more about Second Life, which has Reporters and Taxes and even open standards)