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

She said the power of the brain is much greater than what is translated through our natural speech, comparing the brain's ability versus speech to "four HD movies per second streaming over a 1980s dial-up modem".

Before joining Google, Dugan ran the Defence Department's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, devoted to developing technology for the United States military.

Such a product could allow the deaf and blind to communicate more easily - or allow everyone else "to type five times faster than you can on a smartphone", according to Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook's Building 8 research. Through the use of improved, non-invasive sensors, breakthroughs in optical imaging technology, and machine learning, it's already a reality as Facebook showed a patient with ALS typing just a handful words with her mind.

Driven by the company's year-old hardware group, known as Building 8, the projects are among Facebook's most advanced efforts yet to realize its mission of connecting the human race.

The efforts take advantage of the enormous computing power of the human brain, which can stream 40 high-definition movies at any moment, Dugan said.

"If we put these things together, it suggests 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", Dugan said. Dugan characterized it as "a few years away".

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"Implanted electrodes simply won't scale", Dugan said.

Facebook also is working on a way for people to hear through their skin.

The development efforts include systems that will allow people to type using their thoughts - or hear through their skin.

Facebook is 'developing new hardware and software necessary to deliver language through the skin.' They go on to explain that since the neural network that runs through the skin to give the brain the sensation of touch is so vast, and language systems such as braille have demonstrated that the brain can decode language from a different sense, the technology is possible. As one employee, Frances, wore an electronic device on her arm, the other, Freddy, used a computer program to send pressure changes to her arm.

Dugan was careful to head off concerns about the abuse of brain-reading technology. That would require extremely precise optical imaging sensors, a technology that doesn't now exist. Dugan compared how Facebook would interact with thoughts to how it now interacts with photos. The promise of this technology means that soon computing will no longer be a tactile experience. Even with today's technology, people are constantly concerned that tech companies are violating their privacy. But even knowing what's on the horizon is pretty darn cool.

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