VIDEO: Building a Computer Like Your Brain * 2023
VIDEO: Building a Computer Like Your Brain * 2023

Usage and origins

Wetware, in the context of the brain, refers to the biological components and processes that make up the central nervous system (CNS) and the human mind. The term is derived from the computer-related concepts of hardware and software, but applied to living organisms.

The prefix “wet” in wetware refers to the presence of water in living creatures. The term wetware is used to describe the biological equivalent of hardware and software in humans, particularly in relation to the brain and the mind. It has found usage in various works of fiction, scholarly publications, and popularizations.

The term gained significant attention and became a buzzword in the early 1990s. In 1991, a Wetware Convention was organized in Amsterdam by Dutch media theorist Geert Lovink to counterbalance the “out-of-body” experiments conducted in high-tech laboratories, such as those exploring virtual reality.


Wetware in computing and biology

Wetwear, which stands for wet software, has come to mean a few different things over the years, but it usually refers to the mixture of software, hardware, and biology.

The word originally referred to the association between software code and genetic code, where an organism’s DNA, which is physically wet, resembles software instructions.

In other words, wetware references the software that belongs to a living organism—the instructions contained within its DNA, similar to how the instructions behind a computer program are called its software or firmware.

Computer hardware can be contrasted with a human’s “hardware” like the brain and nervous system, and software can refer to our thoughts or DNA instructions. This is why wetware is commonly associated with devices that interact or merge with biological material, such as thought-controlled devices, brain-harnessed super devices, and biological engineering.

Its uses

There are many potential applications for wetware devices, but the primary focus seems to be in the area of health, and it might involve anything from a wearable that connects to the body from the outside to an embeddable that’s positioned under the skin.

A device can be considered wetware if it uses special software to connect to and read your biological outputs. Some wetware devices aim not to simply monitor but to actually improve the human experience, which might involve a device that simply uses the mind to control other devices or computer programs.

A wearable or implantable device might form a brain-computer connection to do something like move artificial limbs when the user doesn’t have biological control over them. The neural headset can “listen” for an action from the brain and then execute it through specially designed hardware.

More about wetware

Wetware is sometimes used to describe man-made objects that closely resemble biological organisms, such as how a plane resembles a bird or how a nanobot might have its fundamental features taken from the human cell or bacteria.

Wetware is also sometimes used to refer to software or hardware that can be manipulated by gestures, especially ones that come from a biological implant. Motion sensing devices like Microsoft’s Kinect might then be considered wetware, but that’s a bit of a stretch.

Given the above definition of wetware, it can also be evolved into referring to any of the people involved with dealing with software, so software developers, IT workers, and even end-users might be called wetware.

Wetware might also be used to mean human-error: “The program passed our tests without any issues, so it must have been a wetware problem.” This can even be tied back to the meaning above. Instead of the app’s software causing the issue, it was the user or developer that contributed to the problem—his software, or wetware, is to blame.

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