Facebook gives peek inside unit studying brain-to-text technology

Facebook's Sci-Fi Plan for Typing with Your Mind and Hearing with Your Skin

In addition to typing, the system could also serve as a sort of computer mouse for your brain, which would allow you to perform "yes/no" clicks, among other commands.

Facebook is building what it calls a "brain-computer speech-to-text interface", technology that's supposed to translate your thoughts directly from your brain to a computer screen without any need for speech or fingertips. Dugan argues that the ability to express thoughts in new ways could change the very way we communicate with one another, opening a fascinating can of philosophical worms. The best, and least invasive way for this system to work is through optical imaging.

There are already external brain-control technologies on the market, but these are simplistic in comparison. The company said it intends to build both the hardware and software to achieve its goal, and has enlisted a team of more than 60 scientists and academics to work on the project. Facebook showed a video of a woman with ALS who, with the company's implants, is able to type eight words a minute without moving her fingers.

Last year, Facebook poached Dugan, who helped shape Google initiatives such as Project Tango (3-D mapping) and Project Ara (tools for building modular smartphones), to head Building 8, a research-and-product-development group considered vital to Facebook's 10-year technology road map.

Ms. Dugan told the crowd that this wasn't about decoding people's random thoughts, which she said Facebook doesn't have the right to know.

"You have many thoughts, you choose to share some of them".

Facebook describes it's new technology as a way to decode words that "you've already chose to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain". People talking to a friend or family member face to face would no longer need to interrupt a conversation by picking up their smartphone to send a message. Another engineer had a tablet computer with nine different words on its display; as he tapped the different words-like "grasp", "black", and "cone"-the first engineer felt vibrations on her arm that corresponded with the words and was able to correctly interpret that she needed to pick up a black cone on the table in front of her".

"Unlike other approaches, ours will be focused on developing a noninvasive system that could one day become a speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders or a new means for input to AR", Dugan said in a post on her Facebook page, referring to augmented reality.

Facebook also is working on a way for people to hear through their skin.

Dugan says the idea is not that insane.

Any hardware rollouts are years away, Dugan said in a speech. Dugan and Facebook are actually making technology meant to do just that.

Facebook's so-called "silent speech interface" is one of several futuristic ideas the social media giant discussed during its annual F8 conference this week. And yet, when we communicate through speech, it's at the rate of a 1980s dial-up modem.

Facebook hired Ms. Dugan from Alphabet Inc.'s Google a year ago with a mandate to develop what she called " audacious science".

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