What If I told you that Facebook is working on a way to control your mouse just with your brain? Or that in the not too distant future, you could type entire paragraphs just by thinking about it? Well that’s pretty much what happened at Facebook’s F8 Conference.
The social media giant unveiled a project that revolves around creating a brain-computer interface. The end goal being that you could actually type with your thoughts. Developed in secrecy at Facebook’s Building 8, the project is headed by Regina Dugan, who apart from being a former director of DARPA, was also the ex-head of Google’s experimental ATAP research group.
Dugan presented two questions:
What if you could talk through your skin? What if you had a mouse you could control with your brain?
Rather than have brain implants inserted into the skulls of users, the brains (pun intended) of the operations at Facebook say that optical imaging would be the ideal solution for this. Seeing as it’s a completely non-invasive approach, it would be relatively harmless. We’ve all heard of the “thinking cap”, well this could pretty much be a thinking cap. The optical imaging technology would scan your brain 100 times a second to detect you speaking in your mind and then translate that into text. The theory here is that even though your mind has a plethora of thoughts, you’ll only pay attention to one particular thought. So in theory there would be no privacy concerns over your thoughts.
The eventual goal is would be to allow people to type at 100 words per minute. In addition, brain-computer interfaces could let you manipulate augmented and virtual reality environments just with the power of their mind rather than a screen or dedicated controller. Using footage of a paralyzed medical patient at Stanford who can type using their mind thanks to an implanted sensor, Dugan went on to explain Facebook’s goal to achieve this without the need for surgical implants.
Despite Building 8 working on this project for the last 6 months, they have already tied up with UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The people who work at Building 8 or B8 are those who specialize technologies such as machine learning for decoding speech and language, building optical neuroimaging systems etc.
If that wasn’t cool enough, Dugan also spoke about a concept called “Skin hearing”. Again a project of Building 8, this would be where humans would hear through their skin. So far Facebook’s engineers are developing prototypes of hardware and software which essentially allow your skin to mimic the cochlea in your ear that translates sound into specific frequencies for your brain. If successful, this could be used for the hearing impaired where they could hear sounds by find a way around their ears.
In an experiment carried out by the team, a number of actuators tuned to 16 frequency bands were used. It was then possible for a test subject to develop a vocabulary of nine words they could “hear” through their skin. This could even be used as a universal translator, thus cutting down on words to mere tactile messages so two people could speak to each other using their native languages and they would understand each other.
That being said, these technologies are not yet available for commercial use but the fact that Facebook has thought of these technologies and how it can be used means we are indeed living in exciting times. The team over at Building 8 certainly have to step up their game if they are going to make these technologies available to the public.
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