Facebook Is Working on Some Brainy Technology

And Facebook spent the better part of its F8 presentations talking about its plans for augmented reality; the company envisions a world where smartphones will be replaced by smart glasses and keyboards may not exist.

Building 8, which was created at last year's F8, has been working on a "brain-computer interface" for several months, 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.

Showing a video of a patient with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, Dugan pointed out that scientists have already found a way to do this but it requires surgery where electrodes are implanted into the brain.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

Facebook Inc on Wednesday pulled aside the curtain on a secretive unit headed by a former chief of the Pentagon's research arm, disclosing that the social media company is studying ways for people to communicate by thought and touch.

Facebook is unveiling these projects weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that Elon Musk was working on Neuralink, a startup developing "neural lace" technology.

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NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Head of Building 8 at Facebook Regina Dugan speaks onstage during the Fast Company Innovation Festival 2016.

"We are not talking about decoding your random thoughts; that is more than many of us want to know", Dugan quipped. The approach would decode words that you've already chose to share. She cited one study of an ALS patient with paralysis now able to type eight words per minute with her brain, made possible with brain-implanted electrodes and experimental equipment.

Reading the human brain isn't the kind of technology announcement we're used to seeing from Facebook, which makes truckloads of money advertising against user selfies and home videos.

"Just as you take many photos and decide to share some of them, so too, you have many thoughts and decide to share some of them in the form of the spoken word", Dugan said. The executive has previously headed an advanced technology and projects group at Google and was earlier director of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

While neither of these projects will yield a gadget that you can buy, Dugan said she can imagine it happening eventually.

Brain-computer interfaces are nothing new.

This, Dugan says, also has the potential of removing language barriers. The lab also is working on a way for people to hear through their skin. It's like using braille but through a system of actuators and sensors. Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, was able to decode language by the slight pressure changes created by puffs of air and vibrations when she placed her hands over a person's throat and jaw. With Facebook's technology, humans can "feel" words. Once virtual reality and augmented reality have run their course, he has theorized, a form of technology-enabled telepathy will help people capture and then share their thoughts and feelings with friends.

  • Delia Davidson