Some day, if you think it, Facebook may know it.
At its annual software developers conference on Wednesday, the head of the social network’s hardware research and development division wondered aloud: “What if you could type directly from your brain?”
Then Regina Dugan told the audience that in a few years the company hopes to produce a “brain-to-computer interface” that could type one hundred words a minute. She said the company is also exploring ways for people to hear with vibrations delivered to their skin, a sort of electronic Braille that could offer a new way for people to hear.
Gizmodo notes that Dugan came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has long pursued long-shot, futuristic ideas for war fighting, some of which fizzle, and others that give us things such as satellite-guided navigation.
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The Pentagon agency has begun looking at computer chip brain implants that might someday help troops restore memories or movement that have been damaged in the trauma of combat.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on, of course, Facebook that “our brains produce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every second. The problem is that the best way we have to get information out into the world — speech — can only transmit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem.
“We’re working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Eventually, we want to turn it into a wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale. Even a simple yes/no ‘brain click’ would help make things like augmented reality feel much more natural.
“Technology is going to have to get a lot more advanced before we can share a pure thought or feeling, but this is a first step.”
Mind-reading gadgetry is still in its infancy. But researchers have begun to make progress.
Last year, for instance, researchers at Duke University published findings showing that results from a functional MRI brain scan can reveal emotions. They put a few dozen people in f-MRIs and played them music or film clips shown to induce seven emotions.
Statistical comparisons of the brain scans proved at least more reliable than pure chance in teasing out which emotion a person was feeling at a given time.
“It’s getting to be a bit like mind-reading,” said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, said in a university news release. “Earlier studies have shown that functional MRI can identify whether a person is thinking about a face or a house. Our study is the first to show that specific emotions like fear and anger can be decoded from these scans as well.”
This week, Japanese researchers said that had people say the numbers 0 to 9 and then looked at their brain waves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG. With 90 percent accuracy, they could match the brain waves to the numbers. They also could identify 18 types of Japanese monosyllables with 60 percent accuracy.
That, said Eureka Alerts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “shows the possibility of an EEG-activated typewriter in the near future.”