Facebook out to read minds

Posted April 20, 2017

At one point, she noted that her teams were using optical imaging to advance the technology because the only alternative right now would be to implant hardware in people's brains.

Regina Dugan, head of Facebook's secretive hardware R&D division Building 8 discussed the revolutionary projects in the works during a speech at F8 in San Jose, California. At least, when it comes to what you'd like to say or type. Oculus has already dealt with some blowback for its Terms and Conditions which give Facebook access to your movements and where you're looking in VR, what these scandals look like in the future could be even more invasive. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invested heavily in brain-computer interface technologies to do things like cure mental illness and restore memories to soldiers injured in war. Dugan is an ex-DARPA, Motorola and Google executive who Facebook hired past year to lead Building 8.

Building 8's ambitious projects represent long-term research and investments, but they're part of a set of foundational technologies that Facebook is banking on to help foster global community and continue growing its network. Facebook wants to develop a silent speech interface that provides the speed and flexibility of voice with the privacy of text.

Scrapping the need for physical or virtual keyboards in favor of direct-to-brain interface has been considered an inevitable eventuality by many scientists, mostly because it falls directly in line with the natural progression that human development follows.

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"I think at two years we should have a pretty good sense of whether it's possible to build them into consumer goods", she said. So Facebook wants to create an artificial cochlea to create an entirely new "haptic vocabulary", Dugan said.

Such a device-a headband or some sort of cap-could be useful to people who are so severely paralyzed that they can't communicate. The approach would decode words that you've already made a decision to share. In that study, an implant in the brain recorded neural signals. Doing so accurately, in real time, at the rate Facebook proposes, would represent a huge step forward over what neuroscience has shown is possible so far. Facebook's testing, which included real patients moving mouse-pointers with their minds or deciphering language out of brain activity, all requires intracranial electrodes (AKA, brain surgery). "The cochlea in your ear takes in sound and separates it into frequency components that are transmitted to the brain", said a Building 8 representative. It lets her feel "the acoustic shape of a word on her arm".

"Our world is both digital and physical", she said.

We know from the Tadoma method, developed in the early 20th century based off the experience of Helen Keller, that deaf and blind children could learn and communicate through slight pressure changes created by puffs of air and vibrations felt by their hands placed over a person's throat and jaw.