Wireheading is the"artificial” stimulation of the brain to experience pleasure, usually through means such as Neurotechnology or a brain-computer interface. Wireheading allows the experience of intense pleasure, and unlike the pleasure derived from activities such as eating or sex, that pleasure can be experienced at a strong intensity indefinitely.
However, wireheading poses a number of dangers. For instance, rats who were given the capability of stimulating their brain to feel pleasure died. They starved and dehydrated as they no longer had any motivation aside from the pleasure that could be generated by stimulating their brain. Humans who become wireheads could fall into a similar trap.
In Larry Niven’s Known Space stories, a wirehead is someone who has been fitted with an electronic brain implant (called a “droud” in the stories) to stimulate the pleasure centers of their brain. In the Known Space universe, wireheading is the most addictive habit known (the only given example of withdrawal is Louis Wu), and wireheads usually die from neglecting themselves in favor of the ceaseless pleasure. Wireheading is so powerful and easy that it becomes an evolutionary pressure, selecting against that portion of Known Space humanity without self-control. Wireheading need not use an actual brain implant; the pleasure center can be remotely activated by a small device called a “tasp” (important in the Ringworld novels).
In 2006, The Guardian reported that trials of deep brain stimulation with electric current, via wires inserted into the brain, had successfully lifted the mood of depression sufferers. This is exactly the method used by wireheads in the earlier Niven stories (such as the ‘Gil the Arm’ story Death By Ectasy).
In Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, a “wirehead” (also called “antenna head”) is someone fitted with low level brain stem implant used (perhaps among other things) for control by and communication with a “hacker-in-charge, an en , sitting in the Enterprise’s control tower, moving these guys around like an air traffic controller.” The name “wirehead” refers to the foot long black rubber antenna that protrudes from their heads. The antenna is permanently grafted to their skulls and enables them to receive nam-shubs, spoken programs which they immediately carry out, sometimes causing them to speak other nam-shubs to other non-wired but programmable, Asherah-infected people around them. They are said by Eliot to be “Raft gargoyle types” suggesting a capability for information gathering and surveillance.
In the Shaper/Mechanist stories of Bruce Sterling, “wirehead” is the Mechanist term for a human who has given up corporeal existence and become an infomorph.