Facebook is working on ambitious new technology that will let you type words directly from your brain and even “hear” through your skin. During day 2 of its annual F8 developer conference, the social media giant announced that it has a team of over 60 people working on a computer interface powered by the human brain.
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. Dugan, who has previously worked at Google, Motorola and Darpa, was hired by Facebook last year to lead Building 8.
“What if you could type directly from your brain? It sounds impossible, but it’s closer than you may realise,” Dugan said.
In a video demo, Dugan showcased a few examples including a woman with ALS who is able to type eight words per minute directly using her brain via an implanted sensor. Dugan says Facebook hopes to do the same without surgical implants.
Facebook aims to create a system that allows people to type 100 words per minute, five times faster than typing on one’s smartphone, using just your brain.
“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. “It is these words, words that you have already decided to send to the speech centre of your brain that we seek to turn into text. And unlike other approaches, ours will be focused on developing a non-invasive system that could one day become a speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders or a new means for input to AR.”
Dugan said the team expects to demonstrate such a real-time silent speech system in a few years’ time – “one with all the speed and flexibility of voice, but with the privacy of text”.
Such technology would take advantage of the human brain’s computing power, capable of streaming 40 HD movies every second.
When thinking of an item such as a cup, the human brain does not think in text such as “C-U-P”, but the idea and use of the object itself. Dugan says the same technology could potentially be used to read that thought and share it in any language you choose.
“Understanding semantics means that one day you may be able to choose to share your thoughts independent of language. English, Spanish or Mandarin – they become the same,” Dugan said.
However, Dugan emphasised that they are not discussing decoding one’s random thoughts, but thoughts that people would actually like, much like the photos they decide to share online.
“That may be more than any of us care to know,” she emphasised. “And it’s not something any of us should have a right to know.”
Regina Dugan, vice president of engineering of Building 8 at Facebook, speaks on stage during the second day of the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, on 19 April, 2017