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

"What if you could type directly from your brain?"

"What if you could type directly from your brain?" asked Regina Dugan, who runs Facebook's FB, +0.93% secretive hardware division, Building 8, during a keynote address at the company's F8 developer conference Wednesday. She cited one study of an ALS patient with paralysis now able to type eight words per minute with her brain, made possible with brain-implanted electrodes and experimental equipment.

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. "Your brain activity contains more information than what a word sounds like and how it's spelled; it also contains semantic information of what those words means".

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, last month announced the formation of Neuralink, a company that would merge computers with brains to keep up with artificial intelligence.

"We are just getting started", Dugan said.

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Facebook revealed a new idea that would change the way we use the social media platform forever. And Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus Research, laid out the company's vision for AR glasses that could blend the real world with digital information. Additionally, she said, this technology could serve as a "speech prosthetic" for patients with paralysis. This tech has been in development to aid people with disabilities, working a little like a Braille that you feel with your body rather than your fingers. It's also unclear how many people will be willing to link their brain to Facebook's software - especially given that Facebook's advertising-centric business model involves learning as much as possible about each of its users. The speech interface, powered by non-invasive sensors that can measure brain activity hundreds of times per second, could be useful for people with disabilities, or to simplify the process of interacting with alternate and virtual reality. Dugan showed a video example of how a woman could figure out exactly what objects were selected on a touchscreen based on inputs delivered through a connected armband. Dugan is an ex-DARPA, Motorola and Google executive who Facebook hired previous year to lead Building 8.

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.

Mark Zuckerberg reiterated more of her analogies in a Facebook post: "Our brains produce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every second".

"We have a goal of creating a system capable of typing 100 words per minute, five-times faster than you can type on your smartphone, straight from your brain", said Dugan. By connecting this types of sense-bending technology to the language centers of the brain, we could one day "hear" in one language and speak in another. Each thing we learn about it seems to lead to more mysteries that we have yet to understand.