If you think typing is a slow, laborious process, and wish you could instead simply think those words onto your screen, you’re in luck – that’s exactly what Facebook wants to make happen.
It was announced at the company’s 2017 F8 conference that Facebook is researching a “silent speech” system that’s capable of typing 100 words per minute using nothing more than your thoughts and an affordable, lightweight wearable sensor that fits on your head.
Essentially, Facebook is developing a computer-brain interface that’ll let people type – and quite possibly more – using just their brain waves.
It’s not a new concept as the healthcare industry has been working on similar technologies for years, particularly as enablers for disabled people, but this is the first time anyone has announced research on a computer-brain interface aimed at consumers.
The project is being developed by Facebook’s secretive Building 8 research group. It’s no surprise that the project is so ambitious, as the group is headed up by former DARPA director Regina Dugan, who also spent some time as the head of Google’s experimental Advanced Technology and Projects research group.
While being able to think words into existence at a rate of 100 per minute is a long-term objective, Dugan says that right now the goal of the project is “something as simple as a yes-no brain click”, with a milestone of being able to use the system to type at 100 words per minute intended within a two-year time frame.
Dugan describes the system “a brain mouse for AR (augmented reality)”.
Anyone worried that such a system could some day be used to read their minds should rest (relatively) easy: Dugan also said that “To be clear, we are not talking about decoding your random thoughts. That might be more than any of us care to know. And it’s not something any of us should have a right to know.”
This all forms part of Facebooks ten-year technology roadmap that CEO Mark Zuckerberg summarised last year as intending to “Give the power to share anything with anyone”.
In an era where Facebook has been used to share things that people don’t want to see (like a video of someone being shot to death, as happened in mid-April), perhaps Zuck should revise his aspirations.
Despite the privacy concerns such a system legitimately raises, Facebook’s ambitions are nevertheless fascinating.
In addition to brain typing, Facebook is also working on a way for people to “hear” through their skin using specially-developed articificial cochlea. Dugan calls the device a “haptic sleeve” that translates spoken words into “localised vibration patterns”, which lets the user feel the shapes as words that their brain interprets as words.
Interesting times, indeed. Facebook hasn’t committed to a time frame where these developments will produce commercial devices available to the public, but they’re fascinating nonetheless.
[Source – Facebook]