Facebook gives peek inside unit studying brain-to-text technology

by Linda Olson April 20, 2017, 9:17
Facebook gives peek inside unit studying brain-to-text technology

And Facebook spent the better part of its F8 presentations talking about its plans for augmented reality; the company envisions a world where smartphones will be replaced by smart glasses and keyboards may not exist.

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.

Dugan joined Facebook last year spending four years at Google, where she was chief of the company's Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP) group.

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

On hearing through the skin, Dugan said that we have two square meters of skin on our body that are filled with sensors, and wired to our brain.

Facebook says it is working on technology to allow us to control computers directly with our brains.

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

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"We'll need new, non-invasive sensors that can measure brain activity hundreds of times per second", Facebook said in a statement. Early partners include Nike Inc., Electronic Arts Inc. And while Facebook didn't have a product to announce, the team is far along enough in its research to show off a demonstration of the technology at work.

Facebook says it is collaborating with Johns Hopkins, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, on the project, which Chevillet says the work will focus on finding a way to use light, like LEDs or lasers, to sense neural signals emanating from the cerebral cortex.

Secretive though it has been, Building 8 has been known to be working on neural technology for some time, its basic goal having been revealed by jobs postings, including for neuroscientists for "inception to product" design on a 2-year turn around. "That might be more than any of us care to know". The aim is to decode those words that the person decides to share and sends to the speech center of the brain.

"You have many thoughts, you choose to share some of them". It's exactly what it sounds like, a project with the goal of enabling someone to type 100 words per minute just by thinking them, within a few years.

Dugan previously ran the US military's research lab, DARPA, and then worked at Google before joining Facebook, and her work thus far has been kept private.

To do this, the researchers are taking a spoken word-like "black"-and separating it into its frequency components, then delivering those frequencies to the actuators on her arm, Dugan said". Dugan adds that it's also possible to "listen" to human speech by using your skin. These are said to include augmented reality, drones, cameras, and direct brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). It's also unclear how many people will be willing to link their brain to Facebook's software - especially given that Facebook's advertising-centric business model involves learning as much as possible about each of its users. For starters, language barriers would fade away.

Ultimately, Facebook's futuristic projects look like an effort to hedge its bets about technology's future.


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