Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Electronics | By Lorenzo Hawkins

Facebook's Building 8 Envisions Using Brain Waves to Type Words

Facebook's Building 8 Envisions Using Brain Waves to Type Words

Facebook wants to get all of that information out of the "brain" and into the world (to allow us to get it to others at will).

The company already has 60 engineers working on the systems, including what Dugan called "a brain mouse", but is just getting started.

Dugan joined Facebook last year spending four years at Google, where she was chief of the company's Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP) group. We're working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today.

"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.

These breakthroughs may seem lightyears away, but Facebook says they are in fact closer than we think - possessing massive implications for the future of communication in our lifetime.

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

Facebook's annual developers' conference is in full swing this week.

Well aware of such concerns, Dugan stressed that Facebook is taking a measured approach to these new brain-computer interfaces.

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Earlier this week the Information reported that Building 8 has been working on a vibrating "haptic vest" as well as more generally augmented reality technology.

"That may be more than any of us care to know", she emphasised. This is about decoding the words you've already made a decision to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain.

During the opening event yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that, today, speakers at the conference would discuss where they are in relation to their work on the BCI technology. It's a future where we won't type status updates, or talk to one another, or read screens.

"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.

Before joining Google, Dugan ran the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, devoted to developing technology for the United States military.

While neither of these projects will yield a gadget that you can buy, Dugan said she can imagine it happening eventually.

Dugan says the idea is not that insane. The company also demonstrated a system that could enable people to "experience" sound by feeling it through their skin. She cited one study of an ALS patient with paralysis now able to type eight words per minute with her brain, made possible with brain-implanted electrodes and experimental equipment. 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. Ultimately, they hope to develop a technology that allows individuals to "speak" using nothing but their thoughts-unconstrained by time or distance. Facebook is building upon that foundation, with the ultimate goal for one person to be able to "think in Mandarin", and someone else to instantly "feel in Spanish".

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