At Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, on Wednesday, the group unveiled what may be Facebook’s most ambitious—and creepiest—proposal yet. Facebook wants to build its own “brain-to-computer interface” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a computer.
What if you could type directly from your brain?” Regina Dugan, the head of the company’s secretive hardware R&D division, Building 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then proceeded to show a video demo of a woman typing eight words per minute directly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demonstrate a real-time silent speech system capable of delivering a hundred words per minute.
“That’s five times faster than you can type on your smartphone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activity contains more information than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also contains semantic information of what those words mean.”
Brain-computer interfaces are nothing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invested heavily in brain-computer interface technologies to do things like cure mental illness and restore memories to soldiers injured in war. But what Facebook is proposing is perhaps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require picking up a phone or tapping a wrist watch in order to communicate with your friends; a world where we’re connected all the time by thought alone.
“Our world is both digital and physical,” she said. “Our goal is to create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first, at scale.”
She also showed a video that demonstrated a second technology that showed the ability to “listen” to human speech through vibrations on the skin. This tech has been in development to aid people with disabilities, working a little like a Braille that you feel with your body rather than your fingers. Using actuators and sensors, a connected armband was able to convey to a woman in the video a tactile vocabulary of nine different words.
Dugan adds that it’s also possible to “listen” to human speech by using your skin. It’s like using braille but through a system of actuators and sensors. Dugan showed a video example of how a woman could figure out exactly what objects were selected on a touchscreen based on inputs delivered through a connected armband.