Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Facebook out to read minds

Facebook out to read minds

But what is most interesting is Facebook's investment into building a brain-computer interface that will let users type using their mind.

Facebook on Wednesday unveiled a series of ambitious research projects created to help humans communicate using new and startling technologies.

Facebook of course is a company that is investing heavily in research at the moment, and is not afraid of branching out in the hardware arena.

"What if you could type directly from your brain?" asked Regina Dugan, who runs Facebook's FB, +0.93% secretive hardware division, Building 8, during a keynote address at the company's F8 developer conference Wednesday. This project comes on the heels of a December deal that saw 17 research entities, including Harvard, sign on for priority collaboration with Building 8, with the goal of improving Facebook's efforts to realize its experimental ideas. One focuses on developing a silent speech system that lets individuals type with their brains.

Due to fears of violation of privacy that the technology might inspire, Facebook has said that random thoughts won't be turned into text but only those thoughts users have made a decision to share.

In a video demo, Dugan showed the example of a woman in a Stanford lab who is able to type eight words per minute directly with her brain. Facebook's goal, working with researchers at several US universities, is to make the system non-invasive, as well as fast enough so that people can type 100 words a minute just by thinking.

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Another Facebook project allows people to hear through their skin using a technique similar to braille.

The human brain is streaming the equivalent of 40 HD movies every second. Instead of implanting anything into the brain, Facebook is planning non-invasive ways of using wearable sensors.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the developer conference to talk about making the first augmented reality camera. Interestingly, Facebook has revealed plans to develop a new type of smartphone capable of reading people's minds. To achieve sophisticated brain control with today's technology requires the implanting of a computer chip into the brain, something Ms Dugan joked "simply won't scale".

"Just as you take many photos and decide to share some of them, so too, you have many thoughts and decide to share some of them in the form of the spoken word", Dugan said.

In principle, the system would work using non-invasive sensors that can measure brain activity hundreds of times per second in order to decode brain signals related to language in real time.

"Understanding semantics means that one day you may be able to share your thoughts independent of language".

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