Facebook Is Working on Some Brainy Technology

Facebook Is Working on Some Brainy Technology

Facebook Is Working on Some Brainy Technology

Little has been publically revealed about Building 8 until Wednesday, when Facebook took the wraps off the division's first two projects at its annual developer conference in San Jose.

Facebook's far-out projects are the latest efforts by a major Silicon Valley company to push the boundaries of human capabilities through technology.

Facebook is working on ambitious new technology that will let you type words directly from your brain and even "hear" through your skin.

"One day not so far away, it may be possible for me to think in Mandarin and for you to feel it instantly in Spanish", said Dugan.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

Facebook on Wednesday unveiled a series of ambitious research projects created to help humans communicate using new and startling technologies. Early partners include Nike Inc., Electronic Arts Inc.

To get there, Facebook has hired a team of 60 researchers with a diverse range of specialties to develop a prosthesis that can sit on your head, beam light into your eye, and read what your neurons are doing, "as they suck in sodium and spit out potassium", in Dugan's words.

Facebook knows a lot about us including our favorite music, friends, location.

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"This is about decoding the words you've already chose to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain", Dugan said. You typically don't move your arm unless you want to do so; you typically don't speak without intending to say something; presumably you won't think things into Facebook unless you choose to do so.

Reading the human brain isn't the kind of technology announcement we're used to seeing from Facebook, which makes truckloads of money advertising against user selfies and home videos. In charge of the unit is Regina Dugan, who led a similar group at Alphabet Inc's Google and was previously director of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Facebook wants to let you type with your thoughts and "hear with your skin".

The implications for brain-to-text technology are mind blowing and cautionary, says Joshua Feast, CEO of Cogito, an artificial intelligence and behavioral science company spun out of MIT.

Some day, Dugan projects, this type of silent communication could have even more widespread benefits, such as not being separated with language barriers. But the system that Facebook hopes to build wouldn't be invasive, relying instead on the use of sensors. She cited one study of an ALS patient with paralysis now able to type eight words per minute with her brain, made possible with brain-implanted electrodes and experimental equipment. Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, was able to decode language by the slight pressure changes created by puffs of air and vibrations when she placed her hands over a person's throat and jaw.

Brain-computer interfaces are nothing new. Share thoughts independent of language.

In her presentation, Dugan claimed that one Facebook employee had reached a "tactile vocabulary of about 9 words", which is simultaneously not that great and a really cool sentence.

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