Facebook has 60 engineers working on controlling computers from your brain

Illustration by James Bareham  The Verge
Illustration by James Bareham The Verge
Author

20 April, 2017

The folks at the Facebook innovation lab "Building 8" have announced Project: Hear With Your Skin, one of two projects aimed at new types of communication.

"If you ask Frances what she feels", Dugan said, "she'll tell you that she has learned to feel the acoustic shape of a word on her arm".

"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", Dugan said. "We are not talking about decoding your random thoughts", she said.

Such brain-computer interface technology now involves implanting electrodes, but Facebook wants to use optical imaging to eliminate the need to surgically intrude on brains, according to Dugan. "From the 1950s to today, what all of these techniques have in common, is our brain's ability to reconstruct language from components", said a Building 8 representative from Facebook.

At Facebook's annual developer conference, F8, on Wednesday, the group unveiled what may be Facebook's most ambitious-and creepiest-proposal yet.

"You have many thoughts, you choose to share some of them". "Even something as simple as a "yes/no" brain click or a "brain mouse" would be transformative". Dugan was previously the head of Google's similarly styled Advanced Technology and Projects Group and director of the Pentagon's DARPA research agency.

Facebook says it is collaborating with Johns Hopkins, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, on the project, which Chevillet says the work will focus on finding a way to use light, like LEDs or lasers, to sense neural signals emanating from the cerebral cortex.

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"Is it a little terrifying?" As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out, it's all very theoretical at this point.

In a lengthy letter published in February, Zuck made just a small mention of "accelerating science" amid lots of talk about creating global communities. So far, this ability to "hear" with patterns of stimulation on the skin also seems much closer to a real consumer technology.

Facebook isn't only planning to listen to your thoughts.

Facebook says its technology will act like the cochlea part of the ear, which translates sound into frequencies that are sent to the brain and decoded. Another project the company is working on is to allow humans to type 100 words per minute using only their brain. But what Facebook is proposing is perhaps more radical-a world in which social media doesn't require picking up a phone or tapping a wrist watch in order to communicate with your friends; a world where we're connected all the time by thought alone. The system, comparable to Braille, uses pressure points on the skin to relay information.

Scrapping the need for physical or virtual keyboards in favor of direct-to-brain interface has been considered an inevitable eventuality by many scientists, mostly because it falls directly in line with the natural progression that human development follows.

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


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