Facebook out to read minds

Facebook's Regina Dugan took the wraps off the company's mind-reading ambitions on Wednesday.   Facebook

Dugan told software developers at Facebook's annual F8 conference that the company was modeling Building 8 after DARPA, a government office founded in the 1950s that gave the world the internet and the miniaturized Global Positioning System receivers used in consumer devices. Similarly, you have many thoughts and choose to share only some of them. Dugan mentioned that the company's hopes for a sufficiently high-resolution, non-invasive neural electrode now rest on optical imaging, which she then explained.

The goal is to "one day become a speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders or a new means for input to AR", she wrote on her Facebook page.

"You have 2 square meters of skin on your body, packed with sensors, and wired to your brain", said Facebook Building 8 leader Regina Duncan. 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). "To be clear", she said, "we are not talking about decoding your random thoughts". "Even something as simple as a "yes, ' 'no" brain click would fundamentally change our capability", Dugan said.

Today, we have a team of over 60 scientists, engineers and system integrators from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis specialising in machine learning methods for decoding speech and language, in optical neuroimaging systems that push the limits of spatial resolution and in the most advanced neural prosthetics in the world.

At Facebook's annual developer conference, F8, on Wednesday, the group unveiled what may be Facebook's most ambitious-and creepiest-proposal yet.

Facebook is looking at creating "silent-speech interfaces" based on sensors that could be worn, and made in quantity.

In December, Facebook signed a deal with 17 universities including Harvard and Princeton to allow swifter collaboration on projects with Dugan's team. The executive has previously headed an advanced technology and projects group at Google and was earlier director of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

"Is it a little terrifying?" Dugan compared how Facebook would interact with thoughts to how it now interacts with photos.

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

It's not entirely clear what Facebook plans to do with this technology or how exactly when it thinks it'll be ready.

There's mind-blowing technology, and then there's brain-computer technologies.

Facebook Inc.'s research lab Building 8 is working to make it possible for people to type using signals from their brains, part of the lab's broader effort to free people from their phones.

But Dugan did stress that Facebook isn't blindly pursuing technological advancement without considering the implications. The system, comparable to Braille, uses pressure points on the skin to relay information.

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