The pace of technology development has long been best described as rapid, particularly in the last 100 years or so. Surprisingly, one website, Facebook, has been on hand for quite a bit of that development, and a recent article by Josh Constine noted that the company is working on some eye-opening new interfaces. Specifically, Facebook's working on a slate of brain-computer interfaces which will allow users to type what's on their mind, directly.
Facebook has detailed a 60-engineer team to the project, which uses optical imaging to perform regular brain scans at the rate of about 100 per second. Essentially, the system will be able to hear your internal monologue and translate it directly into text, without the need for a keyboard. With such a system in place, users will be able to type at a rate of around 100 words a minute, almost universally, and without errors. That's about five times faster than typing on a phone, and around twice as fast—give or take—as a decent touch-typist using a home row method.
That's not all Facebook has in mind; it's also working on a system that allows for “skin hearing,” or being able to hear through the skin, allowing the deaf to completely bypass their ears. In theory, it makes sense; the ear works via vibrations of hair and direct neural connection, so in theory, the same concept could be applied to other hair elsewhere. Early tests have been promising, if limited, with test subjects able to “hear” a vocabulary of nine words through the skin.
Facebook's hardware record has been less than stellar so far, though has had some noteworthy entrants. Consider the ill-fated Facebook phone built with HTC that ran the Facebook Home operating system. Consider the somewhat more effective Terragraph Wi-Fi node, the Aquila solar-powered drone and even a satellite that could provide fairly wide-scale Internet access.
While it's not out of line for Facebook to branch out—its status as a social media platform is perhaps best described as “shaky” thanks to the growing competition in this field from Instagram, Snapchat and a litany of others—it's a little unnerving to think that Facebook is building a tool to scan my brain. While I'm personally quite eager for the notion of a brain-scanning typing machine—you think these words just come out of nowhere? My wrists beg to differ!—I'm not exactly eager to let a company that has most of its bottom line tied to advertising have free access to my gray matter. Besides, most typing substitutes haven't gone well; just ask anyone who's used a voice transcription service.
Still, Facebook has to branch out, and hardware is a natural fit. Its brain-scanning services may be a little Orwellian in tone, but you never can tell where a good idea may come from.
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