Posted on April 20, 2017 by staff

Facebook building way for users to type with their minds


Facebook has announced that it is working on ‘silent speech communications’ technology that will let users type using only their thoughts.

The plans come out of the company’s research arm Building 8, which says its goal is to create a system capable of typing at 100 words per minute straight from the brain – a speed five times faster than users can type on a smartphone today.

Facebook is working with outside academics to come up with the technology, which will monitor the brain without the use of invasive implants.

Speaking at the company’s F8 developer conference Regina Dugan, the company’s vice president of engineering and Building 8, told the audience the goal is “something as simple as a yes-no brain click”.

She said that it could revolutionise the way humans interact with and use technology and would give users “the ability to text a friend without taking out your phone or the ability to send a quick email without leaving the party”.

The concept currently only exists within very specific medical research trials but Dugan said her team is working on a way to make the technology a reality within the next few years.

The company’s website claims the tech will be a way for users to communicate with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text. It wants to do this with non-invasive, wearable sensors that can be manufactured at scale.

Amid wider privacy concerns over data shared with social media companies, Facebook insists this isn’t about invading users’ heads.

They liken it to taking many photos but only choosing to share some of them, saying it is about decoding those words users have already decided to share by sending them to the speech centre of their brain.

Calling the technology a “brain mouse for AR”, Dugan described how it will receive direct input from neural activity to remove the need for augmented reality devices to track hand motions or other body movements.

Facebook says researchers at Stanford have already come up with a way to help a paralysed patient type eight words per minute using her thoughts. While this system is currently used with an invasively implanted electrode array, Dugan called the future system a possible “speech prosthetic”.

The company also announced a project that will let people hear with their skin. “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.