What if you’re in the middle of a lunch date and suddenly remember that urgent email you’ve got to send right then? And what if you can just think up the email in your brain and your laptop/computer/smartphone will type it out for you and send it, without you lifting even a finger? Sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie, right?
If Facebook has its way, this scenario could soon be everyday reality. The social media giant is building what it calls a “brain-computer speech-to-text interface,” technology that will translate your thoughts directly from your brain to a computer screen without any need for speech or fingertips.
The idea is the brainchild of Regina Dugan, Chief of Facebook’s secretive innovations lab called Building 8. “We have a goal of creating a system capable of typing 100 words per minute, straight from the speech centre of your brain – this is five times faster than you can type on your smart phone today,” says Regina.
The idea is to use non-invasive sensors that can be shipped at scale. The new, non-invasive sensors won’t need to be implanted in your brains and will be able to measure brain activity hundreds of times per second, from locations precise to millimetres and without signal distortions. Building 8 plans to harness the power of optical imaging, the only non-invasive technique capable of providing both the spatial and temporal resolution needed for this.
The idea is that this technology will pick up your brain waves, read what you’re thinking to yourself in silence, using non-invasive sensors, decode what you intend to say, and turn it into text on your computer interface- a pretty grandiose idea, if it can actually be implemented.
If you think this is just another devious trick from Facebook to mine even more of your personal data- a skill it is master at- by listening in on your innermost thoughts, then rest assured. For, according to Duvan, Facebook will only access the speech centre of your brain- where thoughts are translated into speech. “It’s not about decoding random thoughts,” she says. “We’re talking about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech centre of your brain.”
The company has a team of more than 60 specialist scientists, engineers and system integrators working round the clock to convert Facebook’s vision into reality. The diverse bunch of specialists from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis specialize in machine learning methods for decoding speech and language, in optical neuroimaging systems that push the limits of spatial resolution and in the most advanced neural prosthetics in the world.
The company plans to ship out the new technology within the next three years. The tech-driven innovation could prove to be majorly disruptive in the Augmented Reality (AR) scene.
Planned to be shipped at scale, it will be easy enough to use by anyone, from the tech-savvy to the tech-ignoramus; anyone who would care to place their brains in the social media giant’s hands, that is.