Facebook plans to let you type with your brain and hear with your skin

The human mind is a powerful thing, and Facebook plans to harness some of that energy.

Facebook has assembled a team of 60 scientists and engineers to work on the future of communication at Building 8, the company’s mysterious new hardware division, CNN reports. At the F8 conference in San Jose, Building 8 leader Regina Dugan said, “What if you could type directly from your brain? It sounds impossible, but it’s closer than you think.”

The human brain is streaming the equivalent of 40 HD movies every second. This new technology that can essentially read your mind using sensors and optical imaging, then translate that information into words.

According to TechCrunch, the project began six months ago and Building 8 is currently collaborating with medical researchers who specialize in machine learning for decoding speech and language, building optical neuroimaging systems with advanced spatial resolution and neural prosthetics. The plan is to ultimately be able to create non-implanted devices that allow people to type at 100 words per minute, 5X faster than typing on a phone, with just your mind.

The issue of privacy was also addressed at the F8 conference when Dugan provided the disclaimer that this was not about invading your thoughts, but rather taking words you have already decided to share and sending them to the speech center of your brain.

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USA Today said the implications of this new technology could be unsettling to consumers, many of whom think Facebook knows too much about their daily habits and actions — let alone their thoughts.

Examples of devices that let you type with your brain already exist for people with extreme paralysis. At the F8 conference, a video of a woman with ALS was shown with the help of implants, is able to type eight words a minute without moving her fingers. With Facebook’s goal of typing 100 words per minute, this could be used as what Dugan calls a “speech prosthetic” for people with communication disorders.

In addition to typing with your brain, Building 8 is also working on a way for humans to hear through their skin. It’s been building prototypes of hardware and software that let your skin mimic the cochlea in your ear that translates sound into specific frequencies for your brain. This technology could let deaf people essentially “hear” by bypassing their ears.

A video was shown at the conference of an early test where a Facebook engineer wore a special sleeve containing a system of actuators. It lets her feel “the acoustic shape of a word on her arm.” The engineer has learned the unique feeling of around nine words, what Facebook calls a tactile vocabulary.

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“One day not so far away, it may be possible for me to think in Mandarin and for you to feel it instantly in Spanish,” said Dugan.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shown a predilection for telepathy, which he calls “the future of communication.” Once virtual reality and augmented reality have run their course, he has theorized, a form of technology-enabled telepathy will help people capture and then share their thoughts and feelings with friends.


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