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Facebook To Connect Human Brain To Computers

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Because that’s not concerning. Brain interface to allow humans to communicate with computers

Facebook has unveiled more developments at its F8 developer conference in San Jose, California this week, and some of developments the firm has admitted are a little ‘far out’.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the developer conference to talk about making the first augmented reality camera.

But it was another keynote speech by Regina Dugan, the head of Building 8, the product development and research team at Facebook, that really caught the eye.

brainBrain Interface

During the keynote speech of ex-Google DARPA lead Regina Dugan, she described how the mission of Building 8 is to create and ship “new, category-defining consumer products that are social first, and that advance Facebook’s mission. Products from Building 8 will be powered by a breakthrough innovation engine modeled after DARPA and shipped at scale”.

She went on to point out the tech advances posed by the smartphone and the consequences of its use (people ignoring the person right next to them).

Dugan then discussed what voice interfaces with new hardware platforms such as smartphones could look like in the future.

“We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible,” she explained, before touting the example of the human brain.

She revealed that the human brain can stream four HD movies in one second, but posed the question on how we should get all that information out of the brain and into the world.

“We can only speak at around 100 bps (bits per second), which is the bandwidth of a 1980s dialup modem,” she said. “What if you could type directly from your brain? It sounds impossible, but it is closer than you may realise.”

“It is just the kind of fluid human computer interface needed for AR (augmented reality), even something as simple as a yes/no brain click would fundamentally change our capability, a brain mouse for AR,” she said.

No Implants

She then highlighted how brain interface systems currently used in medical cases, allow people for eight words per minute for people, but that system requires the use of implanted electrodes (into the brain), and according to Dugan, “that simply won’t scale”.

She wants to develop non-invasive sensors that can read the brain through hair, skin and skull, and according to Dugan optical imaging is the best place to start.

Dugan explained that Facebook now has 60 scientists working on this at the moment: “They are seeking to creating a system capable of typing 100 words per minute, five times faster you can type on your smartphone today, straight from your brain.”

She reassured that the Facebook system would not decode people’s thoughts, much to the relief of the audience.

“This isn’t about decoding your random thoughts. Think of it like this: You take many photos and choose to share only some of them. Similarly, you have many thoughts and choose to share only some of them,” she said.

“This is about decoding those words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech centre of your brain. It’s a way to communicate with the speed and flexibility of your voice and the privacy of text. We want to do this with non-invasive, wearable sensors that can be manufactured at scale.”

Dugan also then went to explain that Building 8 has another project directed at allowing people to hear with their skin.

Facebook of course is a company that is investing heavily in research at the moment, and is not afraid of branching out in the hardware arena.

This includes its Aquila drone testing, virtual reality with the Oculus Rift headset, or pushing infrastructure designs with the Open Compute Project (OCP).

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