How Facebook is literally trying to read your mind

Black Mirror – but IRL. That’s what comes to mind with news of Facebook’s partnership with a University of California San Francisco study with the intent of giving people with serious brain injuries the opportunity to type words using a brain-computer input mode.

The research, which works to map the electrical pulses from neurons that form specific parts of words (kind of like that part in Black Mirror where Miley Cyrus’ character is writing songs in her dreams), has proven fruitful – a research paper was recently published that shares “speech decoding paradigms have been implemented in real-time applications, including the ability to map speech-evoked sensorimotor activations, generate neural encoding models of perceived phonemes, decode produced isolated phonemes, detect voice activity, and classify perceived sentences.”

And where does Facebook see this leading? Like something from your favourite sci-fi, to a new brain-computer interface (BCI) program for augmented reality glasses that, they hope, will become the technology we wear all day long. Facebook’s Reality Labs Group is creating something similar to what’s being used in the study, but without any brain implants (Facebook refers to it as non-invasive). While the technology isn’t there yet, if they can get the headsets working to identify the firing neurons, there’s the potential to map neurons to specific letters the user is thinking of. From those letters come words, and they will have their first set of results before 2019 is up.

Of course, Facebook has been clear that a working device is years away, but it’s in development and this foundational research means that we are much, much closer than most could ever fathom to this type of technology.

Tomorrow’s AR glasses are eerily similar to something out of the young-adult cyber-punk dystopia novel Feed by M.T. Anderson. Yet, the technology thus far is being used to greatly support those with traumatic brain injuries.

What do you think of this potential future in AR technology? Would you be comfortable wearing glasses that could, essentially, read your mind? Facebook’s blog flags the importance of privacy considerations – what do you believe these developments mean for privacy?

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