An exocortex is a hypothetical artificial external information processing system that would increase a biological brain high-level cognitive processes.

An individual’s exocortex would be composed of external memory modules , processors , IO devices and software systems that would interact with, and augment, a person’s biological brain . Typically this interaction is being conducted through a direct brain-computer interface , making these extensions functionally part of the individual’s mind . [1] [2] [ unreliable source? ]

Individuals with significant exocortices could be classified as cyborgs or posthumans .


The noun exocortex is composed of the Greek-derived prefix exo- , meaning external or outside, and the Latin noun cortex , which originally meant bark but is used in neuroscience for the outer bark-like layer of the brain that is the site of most sophisticated cognitive information processing. It was coined in allusion to the neocortex (literally ‘new bark’), the newest part of the mammalianbrain (in evolutionary history), cognitive abilities, spatial reasoning, and sensory perception. Thus the terminology suggests a progression from reptilian thought (the older parts of the brain) through human (neocortex) to high-level human or even supra-human cognitive processing capabilities (exocortex).

Intellectual background

The concept of an exocortex has intellectual roots both in the fields of computer science and evolutionary psychology .

Computer science roots

Within computer science, the seeds were planted by the DARPA associated researcher JCR Licklider . Within his speculative 1960 paper Man-Computer Symbiosis , Licklider outlined his vision that humans and the new technology of computers, if tightly-coupled together, would prove to complement each other’s strengths to such a degree that many of the pure artificial intelligence systems envisioned at the time by optimistic researchers would prove unnecessary:

Man-computer symbiosis is a subclass of man-machine systems. There are many man-machine systems. At present, however, there are no man-computer symbioses. The aim of this paper is to present the concept and, hopefully, to foster the development of man-computer symbiosis by analyzing some problems of interaction between men and computing machines, calling attention to applicable principles of man-machine engineering, and pointing out a few questions to which research answers are needed. The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resultant partnership machines we know today.

-  Man-Computer Symbiosis , JCR Licklider, March 1960.

From this basis, the concept of an exocortex, the direct coupling of the human mind with computers to the leverage of their respective complementary strengths, can be seen as a result of the ever increasing symbiotic coupling between human and computers. quote needed ]

Psychology roots

The exocortex concept also has roots in evolutionary psychology as a result of Donald Merlin of Queen’s University . Donald, in the 1990 book Origins of the Modern Mind and the Future of Modern Minds, an evolutionary model of the mind, from a functional perspective, from its origins in prehistoric apes to the modern human being. Donald Focuses significant attention is the use That modern humans make of external symbolic storage and handling systems-the ranks of technology from cuneiforms , hieroglyphics , and ideograms to alphabetic languages , mathematics and now computers. From Donald’s perspective, these external symbolic systems have been used for the functional reorganization of the human mind.

The externalization of memory [via the use of external symbolic storage systems] has changed the memory of the memory, which is changing the role of biological memory, the way in which the human brain deploys its resources, and the form of modern culture.

-  Precis of Origins of the Modern Mind , Merlin Donald, 1996.

Current applicability

Cognitive science origin

In November 1998 the specific term was coined by Ben Houston researcher. [3] [ unreliable source? ] Houston coined the term to concisely Refer to tightly-coupled cognition -level brain-computer interface technology in the spirit of JCR Licklider ‘s original vision. quote needed ]

exocortex (eks’o kor’teks) n. Latin – an organ that resides outside of the brain that aids in high level thinking. This will not be a prominent term until prefrontal neural cortical implants become widespread. (emphasis in original)

-  early exocortex definition, Ben Houston, May 2000 [4]

Use in science fiction

Speculative devices which were the definition of exocortices were described in hard science fiction Examples appear in Neuromancer by William Gibson and in The Peace War by Vernor Vinge , both published in 1984. More recently Vinge, in A Fire Upon the Deep and Several Short Stories, described the functional effects of what are essentially several types of exocortices – both those composed of computational elements, and those enabled by high-bandwidth communication between groups of beings. Peter F. Hamilton ‘s Night ‘ s Dawn trilogy also describes in detail similar.

Charles Stross , the Hugo Award -nominated hard science fiction writer, has led the adoption of the term exocortex within science fiction circles. Beginning in 2004, Stressed Elector , a short story published in the September issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction . Stross made more extensive uses of the term exocortex and its derivatives in Accelerando , his 2005 novel. Whereas Stross has an explicit definition of the term, a few passages

About ten trillion humans are alive in the solar system contents, each mind Surrounded by year Exocortex of distributed agents, threads of personality spun right out of Their Heads to run on the clouds of utility fog – infinitely resources computing flexible as thin as airgel – in qui they live. (added added)

-  Accelerando , Charles Stross, 2005.

Sometimes he is not certain he’s still human; Too many threads of his life. …. And it’s too early for anyone out there to be trying to hack exocortices … is not it? Right now, the external threads of his consciousness are telling him that they like Annette …. (emphasis added)

-  Accelerando , Charles Stross, 2005.

The Wikibooks Accelerando Technical Companion provides this explanation:

An EXOcortex can best be described as a trans-posthuman entity’s brain (or cortex), which exists outside of that entity’s primary computing structure, usually the brain inhabiting a person’s meatbody. For example, a person may have an understanding of the subject of external memory, which is a processor, and that the person ‘s biological brain is in a real sense. ‘ (emphasis in original)

-  Accelerando Technical Companion , Wikibooks.

Popular use

While initial recognition of the exocortex concept was nonexistent, this has changed as a result of Charles Stross’s recent publications and the growing awareness of brain-computer interfacing. The term and concept of an exocortex has both been applied and noted by various writers. [5] James Hughen wrote in an essay titled “What comes after Homo sapiens?” that appeared in New Scientist :

To remain the web’s weavers and not its ensnared victims, we must be able to communicate with our electronic exocortex . [6]


See also

  • Extended cognition
  • Google effect
  • List of emerging technologies
  • Memex
  • The Extended Mind


  1. Jump up^ Sotala, Kaj; Valpola, Harri (June 2012). “Coalescing minds: brain uploading-related group mind scenarios” (PDF) . International Journal of Machine Consciousness . 4 (1): 293-312. doi : 10.1142 / S1793843012400173 .
  2. Jump up^ Rajguru, Sunil (20 March 2006). “The human race, Version 2.0” . sunilrajguru.com . Living Digital. Archived from the original on 2016-06-21 . Retrieved 2016-06-21 .
  3. Jump up^ Katsevman, Michael (2008). “Exploring the Exocortex: An Approach to Optimizing Human Productivity” (PDF) . logarchy.org . Retrieved 28 June 2016 .
  4. Jump up^ “Exocortex” . everything2.com . 2000-03-19 . Retrieved 2016-06-21 .
  5. Jump up^ Bonaci, Tamara; Herron, Jeffrey; Matlack, Charlie; Chizeck, Howard Jay (June 2014). “Securing the exocortex: a twenty-first century cybernetics challenge”. 2014 IEEE Conference on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century (21CW) . Boston:IEEE . pp. 1-8. doi : 10.1109 / NORBERT.2014.6893912 .
  6. Jump up^ Hughes, James (18 November 2006). “What comes after Homo sapiens?” (PDF) . New Scientist . 192 (2578): 70-72.

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