Facebook wants to hook your brain up to a computer to talk

20 Apr 2017

Illustration of brain waves. Image: Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

Facebook has gone full science fiction at F8, revealing new technology that will let you talk to your computer ‘telepathically’ using a brain-computer interface.

If Facebook’s latest announcement is anything to go by, the days of typing out commands and conversations with a computer will soon become a thing of the past.

At its F8 developers conference last night, the company revealed that its advanced research wing, Building 8, is working on new technology that would hook our brains up to a computer to hear what we want to write.

According to The Guardian, Building 8’s head of hardware innovation, Regina Dugan, described the effort as a way of breaking the spell that screens have over people, and enabling a conversation online.

“[The smartphone] has cost us something. It has allowed us to connect with people far away from us too often at the expense of people sitting right next to us,” Dugan said.

“We know intuitively, and from experience, that we’d all be better off if we looked up a little more often.”

Facebook has assembled a team of 60 engineers working on artificial intelligence and neural prosthetics to create a system that can read your brainwaves and translate them, 100 words per minute.

Not only would this be five times faster than what we are typically capable of with our fingers, but according to Dugan, it is not that far out of reach using today’s technology.

Not decoding random thoughts

To do this, Facebook will need to develop sensors that currently don’t exist, capable of being placed on the head and reading language brainwaves hundreds of times every second.

One of the major talking points at last night’s conference was the overwhelming fear that such a technology would have on privacy, both in terms of data protection and the worry that secret thoughts would be transmitted over the interface.

Allaying people’s fears, Dugan said “it’s not about decoding random thoughts.

“We’re talking about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech centre of your brain.

“You can text a friend without taking out your phone or send a quick email without missing a party. No more false choices.”

Given the potential ethical dilemmas that arise from these types of technology, Dugan added that Facebook will assemble an independent ethical, legal and social implications panel, with some assistance from research partners such as UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic