Here’s one that should spark no response at all from privacy advocates – at their annual F8 conference, Facebook has revealed that it has a 60 person team working on a new system that will enable users to type by simply thinking of what you want to say.
Yes, Facebook is working on mind-reading. That means all those status updates you thought about posting but didn’t, now all your connections will know what you actually think.
Well, not really, but that’s where the discussion’s undoubtedly going to lead.
The announcement was made by Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook’s secretive ‘Building 8’ division which works on their more experimental projects. Dugan, who’s also a former director of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), explained that their goal is not to read thoughts so much as to provide an easier way to engage in virtual environments – “something as simple as a yes-no brain click”.
Sounds crazy, right? Sounds like something that’s not really real – they couldn’t really be working on a mind-reading system. But actually, this is not the first time Facebook has discussed such a project.
Last June, as part of his first (and only) Facebook Live Q and A session, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the future of the platform, and its evolution from text to photos to video, with virtual reality being the next logical step. But Zuckerberg also projected even further than that:
“You know, what I think we’re going to get to at the end of the line, past VR, is a world where more than just being able to capture what’s going on in a scene, I think you’re going to be able to capture a thought, what you’re thinking or feeling in it’s ideal and perfect form in your head and be able to share that with the world.”
Zuckerberg then went on to cite research from a team at Berkeley who are monitoring MRI data as people do various day-to-day tasks in order to map their various thought patterns and, essentially, predict what people thinking based on subsequent brain activity. Zuckerberg also noted that research is being conducted into how we might one day be able to transfer memories from one person to another, referring to a study where mice were put through a maze, which they’d learn, then the researchers were able to transfer that maze map onto another mouse who’d never seen the same maze before.
It’s crazy stuff, and as noted, it sounds far-fetched, but such projects are already happening – and they could provide some insight into Facebook’s way of thinking.
But even if that is the broader ambition, Facebook’s keeping a lid on it for now, with Dugan re-assuring the audience that it’s not about invading your thoughts, it’s more about convenience – a “brain mouse for AR,” a means to communicate in virtual environments without the need for devices to track body movements. Facebook also notes that such innovation will be beneficial for people with severe paralysis, similar to how their automated image recognition technology helps the visually impaired (while also providing additional data benefits).
Along this line, Building 8 is also working on a new way for hearing impaired people to ‘hear’ through their skin.
This is next-level stuff, underlining Facebook’s growing ambitions, which seemingly expand in line with its user base. A side effect of this is that Facebook is becoming so big, and is covering so many elements, that it’ll become increasingly difficult for potential competitors to break into the market, meaning Facebook may one day be your only social option.
And you won’t even need to physically log on to use it. It’ll just read your thoughts, deliver you content and present you with the latest updates. Direct to your brain.
Scary, amazing, inspiring, all at once. And it may be coming sooner than you think.