Innovation

Facebook planning brain-to-text interface so you can type with your thoughts

At the 2017 F8 conference, Facebook shared some of its innovations in human/computer interfaces, and how it sees the future of computing.

"So what if you could type directly from your brain?"

That's the question poised in a short video recently posted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. At the Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, CA on Wednesday, the company announced that it was working on a brain-to-text interface that would allow users to communicate silently, with their thoughts being written out into text.

The issue, Zuckerberg posited in his post, is that our brain produces data equivalent to streaming four high-definition movies every second, but our speech is limited in how much of that data it can transfer. According to the post, speech transmits "about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem."

SEE: Facebook offers account recovery service that's more secure than email

So, Facebook wants to change that. In his post, Zuckerberg said that the system Facebook is working on would allow for users to type directly from their brains at a rate that is five times faster than they can type on their smartphones. The eventual plan is to make the hardware component into a wearable that can be easily manufactured, with the goal of the technology also acting as an augmented reality interface.

As reported by ZDNet, the system is being developed at Building 8, Facebook's experimental moonshot factory. Regina Dugan, head of Building 8, spent some time at F8 explaining the initiative. Facebook is building sensors that will be able to measure brain activity and turn it into text, with the goal of typing around 100 words per minute from your brain.

Additionally, the Building 8 team is also working on a technology that would allow communication through the skin. Similar to Braille, the technology would rely on manipulating the nerve endings in the skin to send and receive messages.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

If successful, both programs could lead to a more fluid form of text-based communication. Business employees could use the system to improve the speed at which they compile reports or write code, or it could lead to improved brainstorming sessions and productivity.

Still, ethical and privacy issues abound with this research, with big questions around who would have access to the device signals and how they could be secured so that hackers couldn't literally read one's thoughts. However, Dugan acknowledged that the research is "scary" and Zuckerberg was clear to note that it is still early in the process.

"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," Zuckerberg wrote in his post.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Facebook is developing an interface that would allow users to type directly from their brains, using a wearable to measure brain activity.
  2. The social media giant is also working on a skin communication system that would manipulate the nerves to develop messages.
  3. The research could improve communications and business productivity, but presents ethical and privacy concerns.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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