MIT Technology Review, by Antonio Regalado: In 2017, Facebook announced that it wanted to create a headband that would let people type at a speed of 100 words per minute, just by thinking.
Now, a little over two years later, the social-media giant is revealing that it has been financing extensive university research on human volunteers.
Today, some of that research was described in a scientific paper from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers have been developing “speech decoders” able to determine what people are trying to say by analyzing their brain signals.
The research is important because it could help show whether a wearable brain-control device is feasible and because it is an early example of a giant tech company being involved in getting hold of data directly from people’s minds.
To some neuro-ethicists, that means we are going to need some rules, and fast, about how brain data is collected, stored and used.
In the report published today in Nature Communications, UCSF researchers led by neuroscientist Edward Chang used sheets of electrodes, called ECoG arrays that were placed directly on the brains of volunteers.
The scientists were able to listen in real time as three subjects heard questions read from a list and spoke simple answers. One question was “From 0 to 10, how much pain are you in?” The system was able to detect both the question and the response of 0 to 10 far better than chance.
Another question asked was which musical instrument they preferred, and the volunteers were able to answer “piano” and “violin.” The volunteers were undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy.
Facebook says the research project is ongoing, and that is it now funding UCSF in efforts to try to restore the ability to communicate to a disabled person with speech impairment.
Eventually, Facebook wants to create a wearable headset that lets users control music or interact in virtual reality using their thoughts.
To that end, Facebook has also been funding work on systems that listen in on the brain from outside the skull, using fiber optics or lasers to measure changes in blood flow, similar to an MRI machine.
Such blood-flow patterns represent only a small part of what’s going on in the brain, but they could be enough to distinguish between a limited set of commands.
“Being able to recognize even a handful of imagined commands, like ‘home,’ ‘select,’ and ‘delete,’ would provide entirely new ways of interacting with today’s VR systems—and tomorrow’s AR glasses,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.
Facebook has plans to demonstrate a prototype portable system by the end of the year, although the company didn’t say what it would be capable of, or how it would measure the brain.
The Bible prophesied that knowledge would increase in the last days, but that knowledge will be used to further nefarious and wicked purposes.
“Thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Daniel 12:4.